The Helen DeVos Children's Hospital is the New Kid on the Block

Big, blue and round, the new Helen DeVos Children's Hospital is full of circles -- colorful artwork circles, swirling mosaics, round wayfinding signs, chairs and ottomans.

The building's shape is efficient for physicians (on their "rounds") and other medical staff because it puts the hub of pediatric healthcare at the center of each floor, with patient rooms just steps away on the perimeter. But the circle theme represents more than just keen architecture and art.

The circle of life -- or, where Grand Rapids' Medical Mile on Michigan St. is concerned, the circle of life sciences -- stems from discoveries in cancer and other bioscience research within a number of entities along The Mile, such as, Van Andel Institute, Spectrum Health and the Sequenom Center for Molecular Medicine.

Research leads to application through clinical tests by entities such as ClinXus and the Grand Rapids Clinical Oncology Program at Spectrum Health. Successful clinical testing then moves to manufacturing and the release of new diagnostic tests, new drugs and new medical devices. Many are brought to market with the help of the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative (WMSTI) and the West Michigan Medical Device Consortium, both located at the Grand Valley State University Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. And as new answers are made public, the search for more answers begins again.

"The beauty of the Medical Mile is that it enables the entire process," says Linda Chamberlain, executive director of GVSU's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. "If you look at all of the Medical Mile, any one piece of it does great things, but together is where we have the exceptional power."

"Grand Rapids isn't known yet for research, but we have top researchers coming here because they want to lead, they want to push the envelope and they want to be part of something other communities don't offer," Chamberlain says. "Is it cool to work in a facility with great scientists that have similar interests? Yes. Is it cool to be in a town that has a lot to offer without an atrocious cost of living? Yes. Is it cool to have the MSU College of Human Medicine right across the street? Yes."

Since 1997, over a billion dollars of development along Michigan Street between Division and College avenues has transformed the neighborhood into a center for health sciences likened to Mayo Clinic.

The $286 million Helen DeVos Children's Hospital was named after philanthropist Helen DeVos, the wife of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos and longtime supporter of the children's healthcare program at Spectrum Health. It is the latest building to join its neighbors, the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine's Secchia Center ($90m), Van Andel Institute ($238m), Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion ($92m) 35 Michigan (under construction), Spectrum Health's Butterworth Hospital, GVSU's Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences ($57m), Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center ($80m) and the Women's Health Center of West Michigan ($23m).

But unlike its neighbors, which are designed to serve adults, the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital has a playful spirit that brings the colors and images of water, land, sky and sun to life on its walls and in its corridors -- an environment created to impart calm to children and parents who may be frightening situations.

"Hospitals shouldn't be scary," says Tom Hanley, director of communications. "We have people here who are trained to make a game out of it. You won't find that in an adult hospital."

The numbers are boggling: annually, the hospital (then housed inside Butterworth Hospital) has admitted 7,600 patients for inpatient services, treated 190,000 outpatients and seen over 38,000 pediatric emergency visits. West Michigan's only pediatric radiology department, alone, logged 75,000 visits.

The bustling and urgency are kept behind closed doors intentionally. An airy, light-filled lobby greets visitors with sparkling Terrazzo floors and a glittery mosaic mural called "Happiness Is" in sparkling golds, yellows, blues and greens. Created by Tracy Van Duinen, whose mosaic exterior of the Grand Rapids Children's Museum took second place in the inaugural ArtPrize event in 2009, Happiness Is stretches the length of the waiting area to a magical "bubble wall" that burbles thousands of tiny bubbles upward from floor-to-ceiling through bright aqua water.

Over 5,000 pieces of art created by or with children adorn the walls. Even the ceilings are artfully done, giving kids something interesting to look at when prone in a bed. 

Patient rooms have flat screen TVs with movies and video games -- controls are on the bed. And every room has floor-to-ceiling windows that appear blue on the building's facade, but are clear when looking out. The windows are "fretted" with white horizontal stripes to dispel vertigo when overlooking the city.

Amenities for family members include a cheery cafeteria serving ice cream and tasty wood-fired pizzas. Families can eat in or get some air on the garden patio.

Each patient room has comfy furniture that converts to beds. Families who need other accommodations can use one of four hotel-style rooms. A kitchen and a laundry area are down the hall. Small, quiet spaces on each floor are perfect places for parents to make private phone calls or to simply sit and overlook the city. The multi-faith chapel provides a place of respite.

Playrooms on each floor allow siblings to let off steam or ward off boredom, and the entire building has wireless Internet access.

But behind all the charm lies a seriousness that drives the hospital in its quest to help our youngest citizens deal with all manner of injuries and illnesses. Over 150 pediatric physicians practice in 40 specialties that include general pediatrics, hematology, oncology, plastic surgery, allergy/immunology and critical care. And the hospital has West Michigan's only blood and bone marrow transplantation program.

"In the last three years we've added three dozen pediatric specialties, including cancer, neurosurgery and rheumatology," says Tom Hanley.

"There are about 250 children's hospitals in the U.S., but only about 50 buildings like this dedicated just to children," Hanley adds. "We're attracting talent from other places, like an orthopedic pediatrician from California and a neurologist from Utah. We are bringing in new capability of expertise and new ideas.

"At the same time, we have the MSU medical school across the street," he says. "Their enrollment doubled this year and we'll have students doing residencies here. About half who do residencies in a community stay."

The hospital's proximity to GVSU's and Grand Rapids Community College's nursing and health sciences programs means students receive training in real-life hospital situations. Many of them land jobs at the hospital after graduation, Hanley says. All told, the children's hospital has created some 150 new jobs.

URS carried out the architectural design by Jonathan Bailey, which includes six operating rooms with 360-degree imaging and video capabilities so surgeons can consult with other experts or can teach students via video while in surgery. The emergency room offers free valet parking so parents can drive their children to the E.R. and stay with them without worrying about what to do with the car.

Turner/Wolverine Construction oversaw construction. The project features a pedestrian bridge over Michigan St., linking the hospital to 35 Michigan which opens in July to provide outpatient services.

"Think about it as a full circle," Hanley says. "We have the Van Andel Institute next door researching basic science and cancer and Parkinson's, we have teaching across the street at MSU and we have medical training here. It grows and grows in a circle."

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth and the owner of Alpha2Omega Writing Services in Grand Rapids. She has been published in Arts Showcase Magazine, Eastown Fiction and is an award-winning poet. She is in a mad love affair with Grand Rapids.


Helen DeVos Children's Hospital (10)

Photographs by Brian Kelly -All Rights Reserved
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