MILWAUKEE — On a snowy afternoon in December, Columbia St. Mary’s administration and pastoral staff welcomed Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki for a tour of their new hospital. Consolidating the Lake Drive and Newport Avenue campuses into one $417 million hospital, the medical facility now boasts state-of-the-art patient rooms, HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning) system, and three “specialty” institutes: McKeithan Testing and Treatment, Heart and Vascular, and Orthopaedic and Neuroscience. In between learning about Columbia St. Mary’s, the archbishop met many people on his private tour who asked for his prayers and blessings.
One such person was a mother quietly sitting in one of the new family waiting rooms in which a huge window facing Lake Michigan is meant to give comfort to visiting families. A fellow native of Chicago, she was pleasantly surprised to see Archbishop Listecki visiting. Her daughter, she told a pastoral staff member along on the tour, was in the hospital recovering from a car accident. Rather than continue on with the tour, the archbishop took five minutes to sit and pray with her, offering her one of the many blessed rosaries he brought along just for the occasion. She was only one of many who benefited from his visit that afternoon.
Combined hospital expected to save $19 million yearly
The hospital’s design was the result of collaboration among architects, physicians, nurses, staff, patients and Milwaukee-area residents, ensuring that prospective patients get the best treatment available in mind, body and spirit, according to the Columbia St. Mary’s Web site. Groundbreaking was held in June 2006 under the direction of architectural company HOK, with CG Schmidt-Barton Malow serving as general contractor.
During the four-year construction period, more than 350 separate contracts were issued and more than 4,800 people lent a hand in the hospital’s construction. When it officially opened Oct. 12, it marked the continuation of a 162-year tradition formed by two of Milwaukee’s hospitals – Columbia and St. Mary’s.
While it may seem that the way to better serve patients is to supply more hospital rooms, that’s not the approach for Columbia St. Mary’s. The two hospitals – 2025 E. Newport Ave., and 2323 N. Lake Drive – were combined into one, reducing the number of hospital beds on Milwaukee’s East Side by 44 percent (731 to 411). This move is expected to save the health care system an estimated $19 million in annual operating costs, according to Columbia St. Mary’s Web site.
Old campus sold to UWM
Rather than erect an entirely new building, the hospital that held the women’s pavilion and services was renovated and a wing added, now connected by separate hallways. The old hospital campus on Newport Avenue was sold this past August to the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee for $20.2 million.
The new Columbia St. Mary’s was built using the principles of “Evidence-Based Design” (EBD), an emerging science that guides health care design to improve patient outcomes, according to its Web site. The nine-story hospital includes 312 patient beds, expansive windows, two-story family lounges and a grand atrium offering panoramic views of Lake Michigan, the historic Water Tower and the downtown skyline. The hospital also boasts two rooftop gardens meant to absorb rainwater, relieving pressure on the city’s drainage system during rainstorms, as well as provide aesthetically pleasing landscapes that can be viewed from patient rooms, according to hospital plans.
Patient rooms now ‘patient-controlled’
In addition to the institutes, Columbia St. Mary’s Regional Burn Center is located on the 5th floor of the building, and was another stop during which the archbishop prayed with a patient. During that time, the archbishop viewed the patient rooms that offer patient-controlled lightening and temperature, as well as “pleasant diversions,” such as lowered windowsills, local artwork on the walls and views of nature from their window, of which nearly 80 percent face Lake Michigan. The hospital also takes into consideration family members who may stay with the patient overnight; all patient rooms come equipped with a couch that unfolds into a bed.
While new technology appears to take precedence within the new hospital, staff and administration are quick to point out it is their “passion for patient care” that makes the difference. One of Archbishop Listecki’s last stops was at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where a young family struggled with learning to care for their premature son born 12 weeks early.
While the young mother gently rocked her new son, Nathan, as nurses and doctors tended to other “preemies,” the archbishop congratulated her husband with a sturdy handshake, and said a blessing for the continuing health of their new son.