Shriners Hospital realized years ago that if it wanted to continue helping children with musculoskeletal problems be able to walk, it would have to make some big leaps itself.
The new hospital is high-tech, not that it looks that way to young patients. It doesn’t even look much like a hospital. Children mostly see play rooms, colorful window light, and walls covered with murals and pictures of rainbows and baby animals.
“When we ask what they think, they say, ‘This place doesn’t make me afraid of coming to see the doctor,’” said Morgan Hall, Shriners’ public relations director. “That’s exactly what we want to hear.”
Shriners is one of 22 nonprofit hospitals in North America run by the fraternal organization to help children with orthopedic problems, burns, spinal cord injuries and cleft palates regardless of their family’s ability to pay.
The Lexington hospital, which treats orthopedic cases from Kentucky and four neighboring states, opened in 1926 beside Good Samaritan Hospital on South Limestone and Maxwell Street. For the past 61 years, it occupied a colonial-style complex on Richmond Road. That hospital had become outdated, because of advances in technology and changes in health care finance that insisted on orthopedic treatment being done on an outpatient basis.
“Our facility on Richmond Road was a 50-bed, in-patient hospital that had to be staffed 24/7,” Hall said, even though virtually all of the more than 13,000 children who come there for surgery and treatment each year would leave at the end of the day. “We were spending so much money on an empty facility.”
After several years of planning, the Shriners teamed their national architectural firm, SRG Partership of Seattle and Portland, Ore., with EOP Architects of Lexington in 2012 to design a hosptialfacility that was completely different.
“One of the big challenges was adapting the Shriners’ business model to a new footprint,” said Daniel Ware, EOP’s lead architect on the project.
Shriners, which has a staff of about 125, also wanted to be close to the Kentucky Children’s Hospital in the UK complex, where its seven primary physicians and many of its 30 consulting physicians are based.
The result was a five-story, 116,000-square-foot building whose main entrance is on the third floor, where it connects with pedway bridges linking UK Hospital and its parking garage.
Shriners owns the building and occupies 60,000 square feet on the first three floors; the upper two floors are leased to UK to for its ophthalmology program.
“We now have access to additional specialties and sub-specialties for pediatrics; they’re right across the street,” Hall said. “We’re bringing more health care to our patients by being here.”
Shriners’ new building has two operating suites with voice-activated equipment that helps physicians perform a dozen surgeries a day. It also has a $1 million EOS imaging machine that is the only one of its kind in Kentucky. It’s based on Nobel Prize-winning technology that uses very low doses of radiation to create a three-dimensional picture of a patient’s skeletal system.
Orthotics and prosthetics are now made using 3-D scanning technology, with computer files sent to the Shriners hospital in Minneapolis for fabrication. Eventually, the process will be converted to 3-D printing technology.
A new motion-analysis lab helps diagnose patients’ problems with a dozen digital video cameras arrayed around a special room.
“This is the same technology they use in Hollywood to make animated movies,” said Sam Augsburger, the lab’s director, who used to spend as long as eight hours analyzing each patient’s data. “The technology has improved to the point that we now have real-time capability.”
The analysis lab also has pressure-sensitive floor plates to analyze a patient’s walk, and instruments to measure oxygen consumption, “which is a direct measure of how much energy they’re burning,” Augsburger said.
Ware’s job was to make sure the new building was as advanced as the equipment inside.
The building is highly energy-efficient, with super-insulated walls and a 150-well geothermal system for heating and cooling. Architects designed a curved front wall of glass to open up views of the hospital from South Limestone. The views are pretty cool inside, too, thanks to laminated dichroic glass, which reflects various colors into the space depending on outside lighting conditions.
Even the stone façade is high-tech. Rather than using thick slabs of stone and a heavy steel infrastructure to support them, the building has inch-thick stone bonded to aircraft-strength honeycombed aluminum to reduce weight and cost.
The new hospital is much better suited to Shriners’ needs, but there is a lot of interest around town about the fate of its 28-acre Richmond Road property in one of Lexington’s most expensive neighborhoods.
The Fayette County PVA’s assessment gives the property a fair cash value of more than $56 million. Hall said it has been offered for sale for $23.7 million. The Shriners hope to sell the property this summer to “a very interested buyer who’s doing their due diligence right now,” Hall said, adding that the buyer’s identity is a closely guarded secret.