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Le Bonheur prepares for the grand opening of its new $340 million hospital.


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Some of the equipment at the new Le Bonheur hospital is so state-of-the-art, it looks like, well, art.

During a tour of the new hospital last week, about 200 people were still hard at work, putting on the finishing touches in anticipation of the hospital's grand opening ceremony June 15th.

While art was being installed on the walls, a work crew was hanging all the equipment needed in the operating room from the ceiling like a beautiful, but oversized, white mobile.

Le Bonheur has come a long way since it began as a sewing circle in 1923. When its brand-new $340 million facility opens to patients in September, Le Bonheur will return to the 1952 address of the original hospital on Adams Avenue but with the latest in technology.

"At the time [Le Bonheur opened], the hospital cared for polio victims," says Le Bonheur president and CEO Meri Armour. "Now we can cure childhood leukemia, fix congenital heart defects, and children with cystic fibrosis can live long and productive lives. ... The new diagnostic and therapeutic technology and interventions assure us that we will be part of the next 50 years of progress."

At the new facility, half the hospital's beds are dedicated to critical care. Lights turn on and off automatically — 40 percent of a hospital's energy usage comes from lights staying on all the time.

The lights in the operating rooms have built-in cameras, so students can observe and surgeons can consult with just about anyone in the world. One operating room has a $7 million intraoperative MRI, allowing surgeons to see if they have removed all of a tumor, for instance, before closing their patient back up.

The new emergency room includes a decontamination room — with doors to the outside of the hospital — in case of anthrax or a chemical spill. The new trauma rooms can be converted to operating rooms if a patient needs surgery immediately.

And, in the event of a highly contagious pandemic, the HVAC system to the emergency room can be severed from that of the rest of the hospital.

But that's not what Armour is most proud of.

"My favorite features are the ones that support families," Armour says. "The single rooms with sleeping accommodations for both parents, the playrooms, the Family Resource Center, and the movie theater."

Many of the hospital's features were based on families. In the initial stages of hospital design, the architects set up mock patient rooms to get feedback from Le Bonheur's Family Partners Council.

Based on that input, the hospital installed bathtubs instead of free-standing showers, chose to put both a sleeper sofa and a sleeper recliner in each patient room so that two family members can comfortably stay with a child overnight, and designed supply cabinets that can be accessed from inside the room and the hallway outside.

"It cuts out a lot of movement in the room," says Dave Rosenbaum, vice president of facilities services. "Families asked us, 'Is there a way to keep people from going in and out all the time?'"

The Family Partners Council also recommended a learning lab where staff can teach parents how to take care of their critically ill children at home.

"Parents said, 'All you do is send us home with our child and a pamphlet. Maybe there's a video. There needs to be some way to get hands-on experience before we leave the hospital,'" Rosenbaum says.

The architects didn't just plan for patients and their families. The hospital, which is expected to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified, was also designed to give staff greater access to, of all things, windows.

"As much as we could, we pushed the staff rooms to the outside of the building," Rosenbaum says. "Right now there are staff members who come in the morning and don't leave until the evening and never see outside."

The new facility also represents a significant investment in the local area. So-called eds and meds — hospitals and institutions of higher learning — have been shown to anchor neighborhoods, as well as stimulate the economy with jobs and an influx of capital from outside the community.

The new Le Bonheur facility is one of the largest construction projects undertaken in Shelby County, accounting for more construction dollars than FedExForum. A University of Memphis study estimated that the impact of the project would be $1.26 billion to the local economy.

And then there is the facility itself, right down the street from the city's latest Hope VI project, Legends Park. Rosenbaum says Le Bonheur expects to have associates living in the new housing development.

"We think it will improve the safety of the neighborhood," Rosenbaum says of the hospital, "and create an urban feel with people walking on the sidewalks and being out in the community."

For more on this and other topics, visit Mary Cashiola's "In the Bluff" blog at

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