Kids’ arrival brings new hospital to life on opening day

February 22, 2020
Dr. Alice Walz listens to Mya Broxton's heart right after the 1-year-old girl's arrival in the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital. Photo by Sarah Pack

At 5:23 a.m., a siren pierced the dark morning sky in downtown Charleston. A bright blue ambulance arrived with the first patient for the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital and Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion.

The tiny passenger, a medically fragile baby, was brought into the hospital under the supervision of neonatologist John “Jersey” Cahill, M.D.

Judy Stephens, an architect who worked on the hospital and volunteered to help with opening day, watched from the entrance. She teared up after the baby was wheeled in. “It’s very emotional. A project like this is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime project. It’s 650,000 square feet, and it’s important not only for South Carolina, but anywhere. It’s such an honor. It’s really moving,” she said.

MUSC Children's Health employees on moving day 
From left, Carolyn Donohue, executive director of nursing, and nurse manager Amelia Little talk with Francis Small, secretary of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, during the move. Photo by Sarah Pack

Inside the state-of-the-art hospital, namesake Shawn Jenkins was waiting to witness that first patient’s arrival. “We were there in the NICU when the first baby came in, and everybody was clapping and cheering, and there was a little teddy bear waiting for the baby. We were crying and hugging each other,” he said later. NICU stands for neonatal intensive care unit.

Jenkins, a founder of Benefitfocus, donated $25 million to help build the hospital at 10 McClennan Banks Drive in Charleston. He arrived around 4:15 a.m. on opening day so he wouldn’t miss a thing. “I felt like it was a real honor to be able to get up early and be with the team as they came in.”

In a carefully coordinated effort, scheduled down to the second, 36 ambulances delivered child after child to the new hospital. Pregnant women started to arrive, too, and were shown to a designated “stork” elevator that took them directly to the labor and delivery area in the Pearl Tourville Women’s Pavilion. The pavilion is named after a well-known Orangeburg woman whose family started the company Zeus Industries and donated millions to help build the new hospital.

Shawn Jenkins and Gloria Belton 
Shawn Jenkins hugs Employee Services' Gloria Belton as they celebrate the opening of the new hospital. Photo by Sarah Pack

Gloria Belton appeared to be enjoying every minute of it. The Environmental Services employee, who said she loves babies, greeted people arriving at the stork elevator as she kept the lobby clean. “I’m doing some overtime. They asked, ‘Who wants to come to the new children’s hospital?’ I said, ‘Me! I’ll come,’” she said with a big smile.

She likes the fact that the new, 250-bed hospital features much more space for patients and families, beautiful views of Charleston and the latest technology. It also has an advanced fetal care center, the biggest NICU in the state, comfortable furniture for parents who want to spend the night in a child’s room, entire floors dedicated to conditions such as cancer and heart problems and a helicopter landing pad designed to support a military-grade helicopter.

On opening day, it also had opportunities for employees to cross paths with Jenkins, MUSC President David Cole, and Cole’s wife, Kathy. Belton ran across them while they were touring the hospital.

“I’m so excited,” Belton said, as Jenkins hugged her in a shared moment of elation at the hospital’s opening.

The Coles reflected on the importance of the day. “This is a significant moment in time certainly for our community and MUSC and our children. Twenty years from now, we’ll all talk about how we were here when it opened,” David Cole said. “It’s very meaningful. There are so many people who have been working so hard to get this to a reality.”

Kathy Cole agreed. “There’s such happiness and excitement. The transition to this beautiful facility that’s patient centered and family centered is going to be amazing for everybody.”

Chief medical officer Mark Scheuer, M.D., who played a key role in shaping the direction of the new hospital, said the six years leading to opening day were an inspiring, exciting and challenging journey.

“The team’s dedication, passion and never-ending drive to create a sea-change in patient and family care has resulted in a health care facility that Charleston, the state of South Carolina and the region will cherish for years to come.”

By the end of the day, 157 children and women had been transferred to the new hospital from the old one a few blocks away. The old children’s hospital will be folded into the adult hospital, to which it’s already physically connected.

Stephens, the architect and volunteer who witnessed the first patient’s arrival, said a lot of hard work went into moving day. “It’s just incredible to see it happen.”

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