It was a day for giving the media a sneak peek and thanking donors, but in nine days, the kids can have at it.
On Friday, officials from Arkansas Children's Hospital did a walk-through of its Pine Bluff Clinic, a $10 million structure that was described as taking the area's pediatric care far into the future, by way of a partnership with Jefferson Regional Medical Center.
"Because of the leadership of the Arkansas Children's Hospital board of directors, as well as generous philanthropic support, the ACH Pine Bluff Clinic will provide care close to home for families throughout the region," said Marcy Doderer, president and CEO of Children's Hospital. "We are proud of this partnership with Jefferson Regional and our shared commitment to provide excellent pediatric care to the children of Pine Bluff and southeast Arkansas."
While standing in the sunlight-splashed front entrance to the clinic on 42nd Avenue, Doderer thanked Jefferson Regional CEO Brian Thomas, as well as other medical center officials, for their "leadership and support" in making the clinic a reality.
Thomas celebrated the clinic's completion as well, saying he was "thrilled that we have an opportunity to make this happen." He said Jefferson Regional's pediatric care had been "exceptional for 40 years" and that the new clinic would take that effort and improve upon it, offering high-quality care to children "for many years and decades to come."
The partnership between the two institutions has been ongoing for the past three to four years through the Children's Hospital's Nursery Alliance.
"This is just a continuation of that," Thomas said. "This is fantastic for us that they landed right here in Pine Bluff, literally right here in our backyard."
Everything in the hospital was designed with the patient in mind, said Ann Krueger, who is vice president of ambulatory services for the hospital and who oversees outpatient care. Krueger pointed to the waiting room as an example.
At one end, there are digital games that project images on the floor, allowing children to make noise and be more active. At the other end, the room is geared for a quieter wait, with a "book nook" table for reading.
Attached to the wall is a digital aquarium, meaning, as Krueger pointed out with a laugh that it doesn't have to be cleaned. Leading from one end of the waiting room to the other are large circles in the floor that change colors when stepped on.
Many of the design elements in the Pine Bluff clinic came about from things learned at another Children's Hospital clinic in southwest Little Rock.
Sunlight was considered a key part of that clinic, and consequently, there are windows everywhere -- and especially in the exam rooms. That element, Krueger said, helps reduce the anxiety that a child could feel from being in an exam room setting.
A higher tech element to the Pine Bluff Clinic are three negative air pressure exam rooms for use if a child comes in with what is considered an infectious disease such as chicken pox. Krueger said the Little Rock clinic has just two of those and it has become clear that a third one is preferable, she said.
As far as covid is concerned, Krueger said more care will be taken during the initial patient screening. In most respects, she noted hospitals and clinics are doing better jobs at thinking about limiting the transmission of germs.
In the Pine Bluff Clinic, for instance, children won't share books while in the waiting room but rather will take them home through a national education program called Reach Out and Read.
There are 14 exam rooms in the 10,250-square-foot facility, with color-coded floor coverings that will help patients and parents navigate their way around. Staffing the clinic will be three physicians and a support staff of nurses and others for a total of 15 employees.
The clinic will provide well-child care as well as care for illnesses and minor injuries. Krueger added that the clinic will not take the place of Jefferson Regional's trauma care services.
"It is not an emergency room," she said. "For that, we will use our partners at Jefferson Regional."
The three pediatricians at the clinic will also work part-time at the hospital, Krueger said, offering care to newborns delivered at Jefferson Regional. She said the clinic expects to see some 12,000 patients in the first year and as many as 21,000 by year five.
To make the clinic a reality, donors have given more than $10 million to the non-profit hospital, but there is still a need for more. Officials said it will take another $7.5 million to cover construction and operating costs for the first five years.
"We are incredibly grateful for the donors who made early leadership gifts to support this project," said Fred Scarborough, president of the hospital's foundation. "While we have made incredible progress toward the $17.5 million investment, we need every Arkansan to consider how they, too, can support the ACH Pine Bluff Clinic and help us deliver care close to home to children in this community."
The clinic is aimed at children up to 18 years of age, but for some conditions, young people up to 21 will be seen, Krueger said.
Doderer said social workers at the clinic will be there to help families navigate the many services and help available to them, adding that many families were already making appointments for their children on opening day, July 19.
"We're really excited about that," she said.
Thomas also said the public is excited about the new clinic.
"During the time that this has been under construction, I've heard nothing but positive comments from people across Pine Bluff, Jefferson County and southeast Arkansas," he said. "The scale and scope of this project, the number of patients that will be seen and the lives affected, this is just a great relationship situation."