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Queens Chronicle

St. Mary’s finishes its new patient pavilion

A ‘beautiful and comfortable’ place for children staying at the hospital

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Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2012 10:30 am | Updated: 11:23 am, Thu Oct 4, 2012.

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children in Bayside is recognized as a national leader in intensive rehabilitation and specialized care, but thanks to the amenities offered in its new patient pavilion, scheduled for a grand opening today, Sept. 27, it’s likely that many of the patients, despite their medically complex conditions, will forget — at least on occasion — why they’re there.

With vistas overlooking Little Neck Bay, user-friendly names like the Angels on the Bay Fitness Gym and patient-created artwork decorating the walls of a large recreation room, the 97-bed state-of-the-art facility’s new building adjoins a decades-old facility on 216th Street. The overall size of the facility has been doubled to 178,000 square feet, on an area of 8.5 acres.

“Patient neighborhoods,” designed to re-create home-like environments, and family suites for overnight visitation are among the features.

“The entire campus is part of the healing environment,” said chief medical officer Edwin Simpser at a recent walk-through.

The new pavilion comprises phase one of a two-phase project. As part of the second phase, work continues on the landscaping and an outdoor playground and will commence in November on the renovation of the 1950s-era building that will provide an enhanced learning environment for the children. The entire project is expected to be completed by next summer.

The ground floor of the new patient tower is home to what is described as “the heart and soul” of the new campus, the rehabilitation center, named in honor of Burton Grebin, the former CEO who revolutionized care for children with special needs. The center for pediatric feeding disorders is also located here, as are a children’s activity center, the iHeartRadio Music Environment room and an outdoor rehab track.

Patient rooms occupy much of floors one through four, all of which feature the same layout, which, according to Simpser, should make for more efficient care.

St. Mary’s is the largest post-acute care provider of its kind in the state, with a continuum that supports a child from inpatient facility to home and community settings.

All told, the center serves 4,000 children on a daily basis throughout the five boroughs, as well as Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester counties. The staff, including home care workers, totals 1,200.

Many of the children require ongoing specialized care and rehabilitation throughout their lifetime, the result of injury, illness or complications of premature birth.

Some patients arrive as newborns. “We work hard to get the kids from the hospital to here to home,” said Simpser, who helped meld the team of clinicians, nurses, social workers and other hospital employees with the architects to plan the new facility.

“In the design, we wanted to be as flexible as possible. The building has to live for a long time,” Simpser said.

According to Leslie Johnson, director of communications and marketing, most of the children remain in the actual facility for three to five months, with many requiring longer stays.

“We care for them over a long period of their lives,” said Jeffrey Frerichs, the hospital president and CEO. “We try to enhance their lives.”

According to Johnson, 95 percent of the patients, both in the hospital and at home, receive some form of assistance from Medicaid.

Children in the hospital attend on-site classes, from pre-school to young adult programs, under the auspices of the Department of Education.

Founded in Manhattan in 1872 by an order of Episcopal nuns, St. Mary’s was the first medical facility for children in New York City. It is now a non-sectarian facility that will be celebrating its 140th birthday with the opening of the new pavilion.

According to Simpser, 85 percent of the cost was financed, with the remainder paid for through philanthropic support.

Groundbreaking on the $114 million project took place a little over two years ago. Neighbors residing in the area greeted the project with complaints at the outset — some even filing a lawsuit to stop it — but “we’ve worked hard to be as good neighbors as possible,” said Simpser. The new building’s location, set in from the perimeter of the property, was chosen partly because it is “not right to be right in our neighbors’ faces,” and because it “afforded us views of the bay that are part of the healing environment,” Simpser said.

Surveying the new facility, Frerichs said, “These kids deserve to be in a place this beautiful and this comfortable.”

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