Le Bonheur Prepares For Grand Opening

By Tom Wilemon

Bob Moilanen, left, and Charles Briggs paint a hallway outside patient rooms on the seventh floor of the new Le Bonheur Children's Hospital.  Photo: Lance Murphey

When people get to visit the new Le Bonheur Children’s Medical Center next month, they will walk inside a $340 million hospital that is a bastion of innovative medical technology, a tower of environmental efficiency and a museum of fine art.

But the hospital’s most important role will be helping children throughout the Mid-South, said Meri Armour, president and chief executive officer of Le Bonheur.

“We don’t just view children from when they are just in the doors of this hospital,” she said. “We view children as our responsibility out there in the entire community.”

Le Bonheur collaborates closely with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

“In the children’s hospital world, everybody across the country is really excited about the new Le Bonheur because there hasn’t really been a new children’s hospital built in a long time,” Armour said. “There have been lots of additions, but not a brand-new, from-the-ground-up hospital. We’re sort of setting a really important stage for the rest of the country right now.”

A week of festivities has been scheduled around the hospital’s grand opening on June 15. The festivities include a parade, a consecration ceremony and open house tours.

The 255-bed facility will be the first children’s hospital to have a 3T intraoperative MRI, which provides high-resolution images before, during and after operations. That way, patients never have to be moved and doctors can even tap live webcasts during surgeries.

All the hospital’s rooms, including those in the intensive care unit, will have sleeping accommodations for up to two family members.

Artist Mary Jo Karimnia works on a multimedia mosaic in a waiting room of the new Le Bonheur Children's Hospital. The hospital will showcase the works of more than 40 professional artists and 200 pieces of art created by regional schoolchildren.  Photo: Lance Murphey

“Parents are welcome,” Armour said. “They are partners for us. We want them to be there. We think they know their child better than anybody else. We want them to be there all the time and help us and let us help them.”

Family amenities include family rooms on every floor as well as a family resource center where parents can catch up on business with desktop computers or research their child’s illness with the assistance of an educator.

The 12-story structure was designed by FK Architects and built by Skanska USA Building Inc. The construction of the hospital and its opening will have a $3.7 billion impact on the Memphis economy over a five-year period, according to the hospital.

Patients will be moved into the new building in September. Then Le Bonheur will begin tearing down two-thirds of the old hospital and renovating the remaining portion. With the construction of the new hospital, Le Bonheur will add about 170 new health care positions.

David Rosenbaum, vice president of facility management for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, said the project stayed on track except for a few changes to accommodate the latest technological devices.

The hospital was built to LEED environmental standards.

“Our central energy plant is truly state of the art,” Rosenbaum said. “All chillers are designed so that when the temperature gets to be 50 degrees, we turn off our cooling equipment and use outside air.”

The museum will be filled with art, from the elevator lobbies to the common areas to the patient rooms.

Linda Hill and Dianne Papasan, two volunteers, have recruited the artists.

This week, several artists were installing their works. MaryJo Karimnia worked on a mural in the playroom of the outpatient clinic waiting area, while Greely Myatt put sculptures on a wall.

The sculptures seemed to float like clouds, allowing the viewer to imagine shapes of balloons and ice cream cones.

“It’s all recycled material,” Myatt said. “Some of it is from Libertyland.”

Hospital officials were awaiting the arrival of a kinetic sculpture by Yvonne Bobo that will go outside on the landing.

“It will have flowers that move like windmills,” Rosenbaum said. “As the wind moves the flowers, there are butterflies that flap their wings. There are caterpillars that crawl on the flower stems. There’s a lily pad that opens and closes with a frog in it.”

The hospital will also have its own theater, a project that Le Bonheur employees financed, where children’s movies will be shown on their release dates.