50 years of medical kid stuff


The Mirror

The counters at the check-in stations are lower than what adults are used to, but the 60,000 square-foot building isn’t meant for them.

Mary Bridge Children’s Health Center opens this Saturday, bringing several outpatient services into one building.

On the Mary Bridge campus, the new facility is tucked behind the original building off of Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Tacoma. The stained-glass wheels at the entrance, a copper rowboat poking through and activity stations in the exam rooms are an effort to keep patients in mind, lift their spirits and maybe distract them from the grim reasons they are there.

“We tried to make kids the emphasis,” said Calista Wiebusch, facilities project manager of the $19 million project.

When the new building opens for the public to tour from noon to 5 p.m. March 19. Mary Bridge will also celebrate its 50th anniversary.

The three floors of the new building are known as sea, land and air. If you’re in the elevator and don’t know what floor your are on –– or going to––- just check the back wall. A mural in the elevator shaft tells you.

Convenience for families and staff were also priorities.

According to officials, from 1990 to 2001 pediatric outpatient visits grew 276 percent. Many of the clinics were in the original hospital that was built in 1955. Space was a premium, and several physicians and clinics were sharing the offices, often with one department using the offices one day a week and another department using it the following day.

Some services were moved to other buildings and a few homes the hospital purchased around the neighborhood.

With the new facility, specialties like orthopedics, neurology, endocrine, diabetes and cancer will have their own areas. It means families can schedule more than one appointment during a day. A bistro and pharmacy are also in the building so families can eat and have prescriptions filled.

Kimmie Brainard and her family in Federal Way will make use of the new building. Brainard, 5, was diagnosed and treated for a malignant brain tumor from late 2003 to early 2005. While her treatments are finished, Brainard and her family have to make followup visits and evaluations.

For Brainard’s mother, this was a reminder of a time before Kimmie was around. About 10 years earlier, Ilima Brainard was diagnosed with a benign tumor. When her daughter’s nausea and mood swings didn’t go away after a family trip to the Puyallup Fair, they were concerned. When she asked for a second pillow, Ilima and her husband, Tom, knew something wasn’t right.

Since Ilima had been treated for a tumor, the medical staff ran a CT scan on Kimmie. She had a tumor in the same spot as her mother.

“I felt terrible,” Ilima said. “I had told a friend I never wanted to go through that again, but I would have done anything to spare my daughter from this experience.’

There were times when the family worried if Kimmie would survive. The tumor was surgically removed and she endured chemotherapy treatment. The family often spent weekends in Tacoma calling the time “slumber parties” to take the edge off the seriousness. Kimmie is now enrolled at Silver Lake Elementary School and will participate in the city’s Relay for Life event in May.

Other ideas have been worked into the design and construction. Exam rooms are larger to accommodate not just the patient and parents, but siblings who might be with them. Exam tables are lower than what’s traditionally installed. Televisions and computers are in each room also. The former has two jobs: distract patients and their siblings during an exam or waiting for the doctor and as a tool to present medical information to parents.

The computers are part of the Mary Bridge’s efforts to become a paperless hospital.

Children in the MultiCare system - which Mary Bridge is part of - will have their medical information entered and stored on computer. Even X-rays are going to the screen and not becoming film. Then any doctor within MultiCare treating the child can access their records.

Eventually all patients within MultiCare - which includes Tacoma General and Allenmore hospitals and branch clinics - will have paperless records, said Todd Kelley, a spokesman for the company.

Staff writer Mike Halliday, 925-5565,

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