Special to Find It in Fondren® (UMMC Public Affairs)
Confetti rained down and cheers went up as patients joined leaders in medicine and government to break ground for a $180 million new pediatrics tower at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
Gov. Phil Bryant has participated in many such ceremonies, he said, “but none like this. None of those facilities are the places of miracles, but this is.”
“This one,” said Mississippi Commissioner of Higher Education Glenn Boyce, “is special.”
The seven-story, 340,000-square-foot tower to be built adjacent to Batson Children’s Hospital will house a state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit with private rooms, additional pediatric intensive care unit rooms and surgical suites and an imaging center designed for children. The Children’s Heart Center, representing the Medical Center’s pediatric cardiovascular program, will also call the new building home.
The tower’s opening is planned for August 2020. Children’s of Mississippi leaders anticipate recruiting 30-40 new physicians in the next five years as the facility is built and after it is opened, since it will provide additional capacity. At a minimum, about 50-75 staff positions, not including physicians, would be added after construction.
“We have outstanding physicians and the best staff, and they have a passion for caring for patients,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “What we need now are the facilities to match that quality of care.”
“The time has come,” she said, “for a transformation.”
The construction is funded in part through the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi, a philanthropic effort launched in 2016 with co-chairs Joe Sanderson Jr., board chairman and CEO of Sanderson Farms, and his wife Kathy making a personal $10 million pledge.
Friends of Children’s Hospital, a nonprofit dedicated to raising funds for Batson Children’s Hospital, followed that with a $20 million pledge later that year.
Children’s of Mississippi is the umbrella organization that includes Batson Children’s Hospital and all UMMC pediatric care throughout the state.
The Campaign has raised more than $60 million toward its $100 million goal so far, a result Woodward calls “an outpouring of love and support that runs deep and wide across all of Mississippi.”
“The fact that this groundbreaking is happening less than two years after the launch of the Campaign for Children’s of Mississippi shows how much we as Mississippians value our children and their health and how generous the people of this state are,” Joe Sanderson said. “We have a world-class medical team here, but they do not have resources to match their skill. The opening of this children’s tower will mean better outcomes for our children, but also better research, more top doctors coming to Mississippi and more jobs.
“This project is not just for the children who need it today,” he said. “It’s for future generations and is part of a strategic long-term plan for Mississippi’s future.”
Said Kathy Sanderson: “When we see the completed children’s tower, and walk through its doors the first time, I think the emotions will be overwhelming. All of the children in our state can come to this hospital and get the kind of care that any parent or grandparent would want for their children.”
Megan Bell of Pearl couldn’t agree more. The Bells’ oldest daughter, Avery, was born with the chromosomal condition Turner’s Syndrome in 2009, and shortly after her birth, a related congenital heart defect was detected. Avery was taken to Batson Children’s Hospital for surgery at one week old.
“The doctors, nurses and various staff members at Batson always explained everything and were kind and loving to us through it all,” Bell said. “The PICU nurses deemed Avery the ‘Princess of the PICU’ because she was the tiniest and toughest of patients at that time. At Batson, we always felt like Avery was a top priority, and we feel the care she received gave her the fastest and best recovery she could have experienced.”
Avery, now 8, sees multiple Children’s of Mississippi specialists who keep her healthy, but she also attends school and loves gymnastics, singing, dancing and playing with her friends and siblings Bryce and Milly Jean.
“The comfort of knowing Avery can receive the specialized care she needs in our hometown gives us great comfort as parents,” Bell said. “We are very thankful for our state’s only children’s hospital, and we literally don’t know where we’d be without it.”
“I’m from Mississippi,” said Natchez native Dr. Mary Taylor, professor and Suzan B. Thames Chair of Pediatrics, and as of today, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at UMMC, “and this hospital means more to me than you know. This new hospital tower will be transformational for the children of Mississippi.
“This is what the children of Mississippi need,” she said, “and what the children of Mississippi deserve.”