by Pia K. Hansen

A hospital is a hospital is a hospital -- right? Well, not according to Joe Gilene, the chief operating officer and executive director of Sacred Heart's Children's Hospital.

"First, of course, there are specific illnesses and issues in pediatric injury that can only improve when you have care people that dedicate their care 100 percent to children," says Gilene, who moved to Spokane this spring, leaving a similar position at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital. "Then you also have to realize that children are not small adults -- they are children. We are trying to create a facility here that can help divert their attention from their illness. We're trying to create an environment which is as close to home as possible, where there's room for playing, too."

When completed in the fall of 2004, the new children's hospital will have 154 pediatric beds, 20 of which will be in the pediatric intensive care unit. The new hospital will also have a pediatric psychiatric unit with 22 beds and a pediatric oncology unit with 18 beds. Outpatient clinics such as the spina bifida clinic will also be located at the hospital, essentially centralizing services for young patients who may need treatment from many different branches of the hospital system.

Physically, the children's hospital will be centered in the current pediatric units on the third floor of Sacred Heart Hospital, but will also occupy two floors in the new east addition being built right now.

Although its physical structure isn't completely in place yet, the Children's Hospital has already been accredited by the National Association of Children's Hospitals and Related Institutions.

"To me, that says a lot as to when we are a children's hospital. To me, that's it," says Gilene.

The Children's Hospital will join the Shriner's Hospital in consolidating children's health services. Not only will that make it easier for patients coming from outside of Spokane to obtain special care here, but the Children's Hospital will also have special services to help the families and siblings of its young patients.

"I see Spokane as the regional center for the very best in health care, and we need to reach out to the rest of Washington, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, even Canada with that care," says Gilene.

For the families traveling to the hospital, there will be special sleeping quarters and family rooms, as well as programs for siblings, so that parents can focus on the sick child.

"In our outpatient clinic areas and the oncology unit, there will be a lot of family resource areas," says Gilene. "And we'll have the Ronald McDonald House."

Overall, the creation of a home-like atmosphere, including play and school time, is important for the success of the hospital.

"We'll employ child life experts who will try to get the kids as close to a normal life as they can, while [the children] are here for treatment," says Gilene. Hospital play sometimes has serious implications, too. "Play is something children do, from infants through the teen years, and sometimes, through that play we can get the children to tell us about their worries and concerns on their own terms."

Gilene says Providence Health Services -- which runs Sacred Heart -- has committed a lot of funding to the project, both for the building and later for staffing, but he won't put a price tag on the finished hospital.

"There's no question that Sacred Heart is making a significant investment in building the clinical program," he says. "It's a multi-year investment to raise the level of children's care."

The construction in itself is a boost to the local economy, and down the road, Gilene says, the children's hospital will probably hire more staff as well.

"I'm talking about physicians and care personnel. I'm sure in the long term we'll have to get more health care professionals here," says Gilene.

The completion of the project is going to mean a lot to the medical services Spokane is already well known for across the region.

"A children's hospital is an evolution. We already have excellent clinical professionals and great medical staff here," says Gilene. "The Sacred Heart Children's Hospital is a natural progression of the medical expertise in Spokane."

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