By Bill Levesque
Sunday, Dec. 11 was patient moving day at the new, $415 million UF Health Heart & Vascular and Neuromedicine hospitals, a complicated ballet involving about 1,000 health care workers and volunteers, 139 patients and a command center about as busy as NASA’s during a rocket launch.
Using rolling stretchers, wheelchairs or beds, three- to five-person teams transported about 24 patients per hour through a warren of hallways and tunnels from other UF Health hospitals to their new rooms across the street. Most of the patients came from UF Health Shands Hospital.
The tunnels took patients under Archer Road, which meant nobody had to go outside and brave temperatures that, when work began at 7 a.m., hovered in the low- to mid-30s.
Some employees were stationed along the way, directing wheelchairs and stretchers like traffic cops. The two new hospitals, already fully stocked with supplies and staff, awaited them.
And just like that, the two new hospitals are open and operating on all cylinders after about five years of study, planning, design and construction.
It took a little more than six hours to complete a move that had been planned and mapped out for more than a year into a hospital that has been in the planning stages since 2013.
“Our physicians, nurses and staff have been preparing for this move for a long time, and we are all excited to finally have the new hospitals open to welcome patients,” said David S. Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health.
The new hospitals, designed with the patient in mind, will help UF Health teams provide the best possible care for patients, and provide a healing place for patients and families.
“UF Health has become a destination for patients seeking care for heart, vascular and neuromedicine conditions, and now our dedicated staff can care for them in these two new specialized hospitals,” said Ed Jimenez, CEO of UF Health Shands.
Aside from the 139 patients moved into the new hospitals, staff also transported an additional 30 between rooms at UF Health Shands as the hospital begins refurbishing the emptied space.
“I think it went smoothly,” said Wanda Whittet, UF Health’s associate vice president of nursing. “It went in a nice, methodical, easy and safe manner.”
The move was seamless for patients, in part because “packing” teams and “unpacking” teams assisted them at both hospitals. Many of the patients said it was a welcome interlude from their hospital routine.
Count among them Bobbie Thornton, 32, of Wauchula, who — after being hospitalized for 25 days awaiting a heart transplant — was overjoyed to get a change of scenery.
Thornton, who has a congenital heart disease, was accompanied on the journey by her parents, Judy and Carl Thornton, niece Gairyn, 9, and nephew Gatlin, 12.
“It was something to look forward to, a nice change,” Thornton said. “I was so happy I didn’t have to leave my family behind. They got to experience what I experienced.”
Thornton said the nicest part of everything was seeing her new room’s bigger windows with a view that stretched to Paynes Prairie.
“The view is so beautiful,” Thornton said, as bright sunshine spilled over her. “I may actually get a suntan.”
Kim Stone, 55, of Crystal River, who had suffered a minor stroke earlier in the week, said she thought the view would help her heal. But what she really liked was that all 216 rooms in the two hospitals are private.
Stone had a roommate across the street.
“Even when you have a good roommate, you can get on each other’s nerves,” she said. “You wonder if your TV is keeping them up, or if you’re playing the radio too loud. Now, there’s room to breathe.”
As patients arrived at their rooms, they were quickly greeted with either breakfast or lunch.
Lee Marlowe, assistant director of clinical nutrition, proudly noted that the move did not derail meal service one bit. Everybody, she said, got their food on time.
“I couldn’t sleep at all last night,” Marlowe said, confessing to a few pre-move butterflies. “It’s like getting ready for a big trip with all the anxiety of planning it. Then, it’s just so great to have it done and be on your way.”
All of the patients received a complimentary UF Health blanket they can keep when they return home. UF Health employees presented one patient, Jerry Foley, 43, of Auburndale, with a big, overstuffed bear, which then gave his procession to the new hospitals the flavor of a Winnie the Pooh parade.
Foley, who had been hospitalized three weeks, has a congenital heart defect and now awaits a heart and liver transplant. It took about 20 minutes for the trip over to his new room.
“Going from the old to the new is pretty neat,” Foley said as he was wheeled over.
As he rode down an elevator in UF Health Shands Hospital, someone on his transport team joked with Foley after noticing a Florida State University Christmas ornament hanging from his IV stand. This is, after all, Gator country.
Foley smiled. “UF’s getting me a new heart and liver,” he said. “Maybe I’ll convert.”