MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — By late 2020, the skyline above Milan Puskar Stadium’s north end zone will be a little fuller.

That’s when the WVU Medicine Children’s tower is expected to open — a state-of-the-art 10-story, 150-bed tower that is expected to address capacity issues for current and future patients. Overcrowding has become an issue for the current facility, which now provides more than 57,000 pediatric emergency room visits and admits 17,500 children for admission and observation annually.

“We don’t have private rooms that are neonatal or ICU,” WVU Medicine Children’s Executive VP Dr. J. Philip Saul said. “That’s pretty much standard now. It doesn’t make the care worse, but it makes the family comfort different. We’re really looking forward to having a private room for every patient who comes into the hospital.”

In addition to the capacity changes — which should help relieve the consistent 85 percent capacity and four patients per room status — the expansion is described as a means to stop the “exportation” of healthcare and talent from West Virginia into other states.

“By filling that gap and then filling a matching facility, we’re going to be able to offer every West Virginian the opportunity to stay in state, to be taken care of by West Virginians, to get as good a care as anywhere in the world, and have it happen closer to home and in their state,” Dr. Saul said.

In conjunction with their partners throughout the state, Dr. Saul said this will provide a chance to right a historical wrong.

“The data shows that about 20 percent of West Virginia’s children who are discharged from a hospital are discharged out of state,” Dr. Saul said. “There’s a history behind that. There hasn’t always been adequate access to healthcare in this state, and so they left.”

Righting that wrong won’t be cheap though — requiring a capital campaign to raise $60 million for the project.

“This is a necessity, not a nicety,” WVU President Gordon Gee said Thursday. “The children and families we serve will be relying on our friends and alumni, our businesses, the people of West Virginia, and the Mountaineer Nation — wherever they may be — to pitch in and to make this project a reality.”

Leukemia survivor Natalie Jefferis, a Fairmont native and former patient of WVU Medicine Children’s, said she took for granted what it meant to have the hospital “in her back yard” as a kid, but that’s not something she takes for granted now.

“To be able to drive to the hospital, get the care we need, and drive home every day allowed me to stay in school and not have to be home schooled,” she said. “And it allowed me to be there for the holidays unless I was actually so sick that I needed to be in the hospital.”

Jefferis said the new building would allow for families to keep a little bit of normalcy by providing each patient with their own room.

“That means a lot to families, and it allows them to keep their family unit operating as normal as possible through very difficult times,” Jefferis said.

The new facility will include:

  • Entry, registration, administration, outpatient clinics, and building services
  • Loading dock, dietary services, diagnostic imaging, and connection to the Southeast Tower, which is the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute Tower
  • Operating rooms, cardiac catheterization, and endoscopy facilities
  • A 20-bed Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and 10-bed procedure/sedation unit
  • A 50-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)
  • A 40-bed pediatric acute care unit
  • A 30-bed obstetrical unit with potential for expansion
  • Pediatric sub-specialty and maternal-fetal medicine clinics

Construction of the tower will be subject to Certificate of Need approval by the West Virginia Health Care Authority. Construction costs are estimated to be $105.8 million. $46.2 million will be needed for financing and other related costs. WVU Hospitals will finance the remainder of the cost. No state funds will be sough, and no extraordinary rate increase is anticipated as a result of the construction, according to a release from WVU Medicine.

Jefferis, Gee and Saul agreed: the expansion is an investment in West Virginia’s future — it’s children.

“To have most of your childhood spent in a hospital and to walk out the other side of that with virtually no scars to show for it is wonderful,” she said. “It really makes you value the people that took care of you and gave you the future opportunities that you are able to achieve.”

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