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New children's hospital building puts care at child's height

Photo by Beth Barton/DNK Digital
Child-centered design choices at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital fill the space with opportunities to touch and explore.

Pediatric patients started filling rooms at the new Lucile Packard Children's Hospital earlier this month, five years after its groundbreaking.

The Palo Alto-based enterprise draws specialty cases from around the world but also continues to fulfill a key local function. Nearly 3,000 children and pregnant mothers from Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View passed through the hospital over the past year.

The new hospital was built as part of a $1.2 billion expansion that added 521,000 square feet and 149 patient beds to the previously existing hospital facility. The structure first built to house the hospital when it opened in 1991 continues to operate, now dubbed the “West Building.” The hospital now offers 361 patient beds in total. Its postpartum and labor and delivery facilities, located in the West Building, are next up for refurbishment. Packard was already unusual for combining pediatric and labor and delivery facilities in one hospital. Its childbirth services will now be able to transition to mostly private rooms as well.

Longtime Los Altos resident and local philanthropist Lucile Packard died before she could see the hospital open back in 1991, but the advocate for children and expectant mothers founded the hospital with a $40 million donation in partnership with her husband, David, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard Co.

Close to home

More than 90 patients moved to the new building within hours of its opening Dec. 9. The new patient rooms, nearly all of them private, feature amenities intended to make children comfortable and confident, and to alleviate some of the discomforts faced by parents clocking long, confined hours over the days, weeks and sometimes months their children receive care. A couch in the back corner of the room folds out into a double bed, with a curtain that pulls across for privacy, and a second, smaller TV screen prevents the necessity of all family members exclusively sharing their entertainment.

Christopher G. Dawes, the hospital’s president and CEO, and Susan Packard Orr, vice president of the hospital’s board of directors, said during a visit to the new patient rooms that they had been designed to be as close to home as possible, an idea dating back to Lucile Packard’s first vision for the hospital.

Asked about the move to all-private rooms, Dawes said they “can be more efficient” because they make isolating some patients, and trying to match patient gender for room-sharing, nonissues. He added that modern expectations of privacy have made all-private hospitals rooms an industry standard for new projects.

The main TV screens, oriented toward the patient beds, read the badges of medical workers as they enter the room and display their picture, name and role so that children and parents can understand who is visiting them and why.

The bathrooms include child-friendly tubs instead of only showers, a soothing feature for some of the littlest patients, and every room has plant landscaping outside its windows, even on upper stories. Countertops at the nurse’s stations are built low, so children can see and interact with the care teams who are helping them.

Each floor also has its own access to outdoor space in the form of balconies. Amenities such as laundry facilities and family kitchens are included on every floor, and hours have been expanded to include an around-the-clock Starbucks and gift shop, and the Harvest Cafe, open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Child-friendly facility

Patient families touring the new hospital before it opened said the spaces built just for play met a substantial need.

“It was boring, and back then there was just a couch – you couldn’t even lie down,” recalled Erika Diaz, who logged long hours as an older sister supporting siblings with complicated medical conditions.

Her younger siblings, Doris and David, both received double lung transplants at the hospital after being diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Packard boasts the only pediatric lung and heart-lung transplant program on the West Coast. The Diaz family stayed at the hospital for up to two months at a time, in and out over the course of the past 12 years, and a family member would stay with the hospitalized children 24 hours a day.

From the entrance lobby through hallways, elevators and gardens, the new facility was designed for child navigation and child entertainment.

Flocks of California least terns cast in aluminum by artist David Landis wheel mid-air over the lobby and up the stairs, while touchable sculptures of California sea creatures gaze out of niches along the stairway. Textured animal footprints make paths along the hallway, and each floor can be identified by a special animal rather than a number. These features and others, ranging from an interactive mural to 3.5 acres of garden, green space and playground, all aim to provide solace and entertainment for pediatric patients and siblings who have to pass long, difficult days at the medical facility. The building was designed by Perkins+Will.

A community campaign raised $262 million for the new building and grounds. Other funding for the project is coming from hospital income and operating services, public bond money and ongoing community support.

Among the new surgical suites, a hybrid MRI-operating room will allow direct access to imaging during procedures. A new combined PET/MRI machine will shorten the duration of imaging and reduce the radiation dose delivered to pediatric patients who need extensive imaging.

Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital is located at 725 Welch Ave., Palo Alto. For more information, call 497-8000 or visit

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