The place that has healed so many profoundly sick children is finally fixing itself.
Doubling in size to meet ever-growing demand for complex care, Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital celebrated the end of a decade of planning on Thursday with a ceremonial groundbreaking that will add 150 beds, private rooms and advanced treatments.
"Think of how many more children this hospital can save," said Miranda Ashland, 17, of Saratoga, confidently facing a crowd of celebrities, civic leaders and construction crews. A liver transplant at Packard saved the auburn-haired youth from certain death.
The original hospital built in 1991 didn't even have an operating room. Since then, Packard has emerged as a national leader in the increasingly sophisticated field of pediatric medicine.
But it ran out of room. Surgeries are sometimes delayed. The emergency room can be congested. Mothers can't sleep near their perilously ill newborns. And there's a shortage of storage and administrative rooms, because they've been converted into essential clinical space.
"We have the medical expertise but not the space," said hospital CEO Christopher Dawes. "It really wasn't designed for today's medicine."
It cost $110 million to build and equip the hospital 21 years ago.
The new addition is costing $1.2 billion.
At the ceremony, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman applauded the expansion, noting that HP engineers designed a tool to
Apple executive Joel M. Podolny also welcomed the new facility, calling Packard "a resource for the world -- in our own backyard."
When completed in four years, the expansion will add 150 patient rooms, as well as new space for advanced diagnostic and treatment therapies. It is adding 521,000 square feet to the existing hospital — filling the now-vacant corner of Quarry and Welch Roads, across the street from California Café's Red Barn Restaurant.
It's a model of what experts say is a trend in children's hospital construction: private rooms, lots of natural light, energy efficiency and specialized equipment needed to save very sick kids.
"Packard belongs to a small group of children's hospitals that offer the services needed to take care of increasingly complex children," said Amy Knight, senior vice president of the Children's Hospital Association in Washington D.C. Because less severe ailments are treated outside the hospital, "if you are in a children's hospital, you are a pretty sick kid."
"Because of that success, they attract patients far and wide," she said. "Parents are willing and able to travel for those services."
So far, donors have contributed $250 million to the project. The nonprofit hospital had $44.1 million in excess revenue over expenses for the nine-month period ending May 31.
Since its original construction, technology has changed dramatically.
For instance, two new surgical rooms are called "hybrids" — sites for not just surgery but also interventional radiology and cardiac catheterization. Sick children who now need such services — for instance, if they are undergoing surgery to close a hole in the heart -- must be wheeled by gurney to the Stanford Hospital, said Denise Bickert, administrative director for perioperative services.
"We're getting increasingly complex cases — many who would not have survived years ago," said Dr. Craig Albanese, director of pediatric surgical services.
This has spurred the need for ongoing care by experts.
"Increasingly, places like Packard are magnets for high-end subspecialists who need a sophisticated environment to practice in," said Knight. "Their techniques require a lot of ancillary support."
Only a decade or two ago, surgeons could not repair many types of congenital heart disease, said Albanese. Now these children live into adulthood, "but need ongoing tweaks" in treatment, he said. "Children with cancers and cystic fibrosis — they're also living longer."
"Because they survive, they need continued access to services," he said, "requiring several specialists for their long-term chronic diseases."
There's another trend: the rising rate of premature births, and Packard's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit performs once-unimaginable rescues — saving babies only one or two pounds in size, said Dr. Ron Cohen, director of the Intermediate Intensive Care Nursery.
The new hospital seeks to double its nursery -- with private rooms replacing large multi-infant rooms, filled with incubators.
"That creates the ability for the mother to stay with child — for better bonding and supportive breast-feeding," said Cohen.
Specialized children's care is increasingly a regional or state business, not a local one. The nation's most prominent children's hospitals — in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Cincinnati, Houston and Washington D.C. — are all expanding, said Knight. Meanwhile, smaller community hospitals are seeing fewer children.
Fresno-based Elaina Bopp came to Packard for major surgery on her ankle -- removing about a quarter of her bone, including a nonmalignant tumor. After recovery, she joined six ensembles for ballet, modern dance, hip hop and jazz — and was elected homecoming princess at high school.
When Spencer Morse crashed during a motocross race at the Tuolumne County Fair, he was airlifted to Packard. The trauma team treated his traumatic brain injury, and Spencer is back in school and sports.
Twins Angelica and Angelina Sabuco, born conjoined at the chest and separated at Packard, traveled all the way from the Philippines.
There is such demand that Packard surgeons are scheduled months in advance, said Bickert. "They're booked solid, five days a week."
When there's major emergency surgery, like a liver transplant, "we might actually end up canceling (elective surgery) for that day and rescheduling for another. That has huge implications for families," she said.
To be sure, Packard is not alone in its construction. There is a building boom in hospitals across the state, including San Jose's Valley Medical Center and San Francisco's San Francisco General, according to Jan Emerson—Shea of the California Hospital Association.
"We are seeing hospital construction, modernization and replacement all over," driven by a state law that mandates every hospital to meet a new earthquake safety standard or risk being shut down, said Emerson-Shea.
It is often less expensive to build an entire new facility than to retrofit, she said.
California hospitals are spending a total of $110 billion to bring their facilities into compliance — at an average cost of $2 million to $2.5 million per bed, she said.
The new Packard will save generations of children who are just as desperate as she was, said Ashland.
"It saved my life," she said. "It gives hope to families, friends -- and children, who just want to get better and go home."