Cook Children’s: The shape of things to come: $350 million expansion

Carolyn Poirot

Cook Children’s Health Care System is shaping up for a long and busy future serving young patients and their families from all parts of West Texas. The medical center has cleared ground for construction of a $350 million, six-story South Tower to house greatly expanded emergency and surgery departments on the main campus in Fort Worth, president and CEO Rick Merrill confirmed. “‘We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,’” Merrill said recently, quoting Winston Churchill. “Our current ER was built to accommodate 60,000 to 70,000 visits a year,” said Merrill. “We now have 125,000-plus trying to squeeze in. There is nothing else to do to accommodate patient volume.” Cook Children’s is also opening a $4.5 million multi-specialty clinic/urgent care center in Mansfield this spring, is building its sixth neighborhood clinic (the Renaissance Center Clinic) at U.S. 287 and Berry Street, and recently purchased eight acres from Alliance developers for an urgent care and specialty clinic just south of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance. The South Tower is projected to take three and a half years to build. It will connect on several levels to the medical center’s original “new” building, which opened in 1989 and doubled in size with a $250 million expansion project completed just two years ago, in March 2012. Other on-campus construction projects include a permanent Urgent Care Center at the corner of Rosedale Street and Sixth Avenue and a new two-story, 16,560-square-foot South Utility Plant. The plant, with construction already started, will house the most energy-efficient options to power all the equipment going into the South Tower and increase the medical center’s energy capacity to service future growth to the south, Merrill told the Fort Worth Business Press. The new Urgent Care Center will replace a temporary facility that opened June 3 in the center of campus to help alleviate long waiting times in the crowded emergency department and give families access to non-emergency care after hours. “We are thrilled to be able to offer this service at our medical center campus in Fort Worth and to meet the ever-growing needs of our patient population,” said Nancy Cychol, president of Cook Children’s Medical Center, when the temporary center was opened. “This is much more convenient when symptoms are not life-threatening.”  


The Renaissance Neighborhood Clinic will offer primary care to children with limited access to such care. Construction will start April 1 and the clinic is scheduled to open at the end of September. A timetable has not been determined for the Alliance center, which will include specialty clinics and urgent care. The overall goal of this latest round of construction is to bring services closer to patients and their families, to reduce waiting time for emergency care, to create greater efficiency by grouping related services together and to make room for the latest advances in high-tech surgical equipment, Merrill said. “Our aim has always been to provide the safest and most modern environment possible for our patients and their families,” Merrill said. “Technology progresses quickly so we must continue to not only evolve with the times, but try to stay ahead of them.” The South Tower will also provide space for long-term inpatient growth with levels five and six shelled in for future medical/surgical beds. The basement of the new tower will house Cook Children’s greatly increased sterile processing and laboratory space, which has been “beyond capacity” for the last 10 years, Merrill said. The new space will accommodate all lab work in-house and provide faster turnaround times for diagnostic testing, he said. The new surgery department will be located on the second floor of the tower, just above the first-floor emergency department. The third floor will house the heart center, with cardiac catheterization labs, operating rooms, cardiac intensive care and a cardiac step-down all in one general area. The fourth floor of the South Tower will primarily be filled with the new equipment needed for the surgery and cardiac care areas. The medical center is also recruiting a cardiologist who specializes in treating young adults who have survived congenital heart defects and diseases to help Cook Children’s oldest patients make the transition out of pediatric care. “Some of these children who are surviving heart disease as well as cancer and neurological diseases find themselves in ‘no-man’s land’ once they hit 21,” Merrill said. “We want to offer them continuing access to the advances in diagnostics, imaging, surgical treatments and medications we have at Cook Children’s.”

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He said the medical center is just doing what has to be done to keep up with advances in children’s health care. “Who could have anticipated all of this fabulous technology and the space it takes in the operating rooms back in the 1980s? The floor-to-ceiling height of the rooms simply will not accommodate a lot of the special equipment we have today,” he said. “No matter what happens, we are in a position to not only survive but thrive in the uncertain future and to keep our promise to make a difference in the health status of every child in our six-county area … [while] reaching out to all of West Texas,” Merrill said. And he promises that green space and play areas at Cook Children’s “will absolutely not suffer” in the process.