At the ding of a cowbell Sunday, staffers in a command center at the Johns Hopkins Hospital began clapping and yelling out victory cheers.
Another department had begun to transfer patients as part of a massive move from Hopkins' aging hospital building to a towering $1.1 billion facility next door. The complicated process, which centered on the delicate task of relocating sick patients, was running according to plan.
The official opening Tuesday of the two 12-story towers will mark the final step in the largest hospital project in Maryland history. The facility, in the works since the 1990s, will change the way Hopkins practices medicine, with innovations that officials said will improve patient care and allow for the latest surgical techniques.
The new structure will even affect the way visitors move through the hospital, as a larger number of elevators means patients and visitors will no longer have to share. That was one of many inconveniences that patients and staff dealt with in the old complex, built in the 1930s and 1950s.
"Our new home represents our vision for health care," Edward Miller, dean and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement. "It has the space and technology to match our researchers' scientific knowledge, our faculty's acumen and our staff's medical skills, but it also adds the patient experience as the fourth critical dimension in this equilibrium."
Construction of the 1.6 million-square-foot facility with 560 private rooms was a five-year undertaking. The move of nearly 350 patients, which will be completed Monday, required similar precision in planning and execution. Over two years, staff took training courses and participated in several mock runs, with volunteers playing patients, to prepare for the real event.
At about 1 p.m., 14-year-old Brooke Shockley began her journey from the pediatric oncology unit on the eighth floor of the old building to a room on the 11th level in one of the towers. The Salisbury resident, who is being treated for bone cancer, said Sunday was the first time she actually looked forward to being in the hospital. Her old room looked out onto a brick wall; now, she'll be able to take in the Baltimore skyline.
After snaking through corridors connecting the buildings, Brooke arrived at the new unit to applause from staff members. Her hospital bed was wheeled over to her room, where a gold ribbon had been stretched across the door, adorned with purple bows. "Welcome Brooke and family!" it announced.
As she looked on, her mother, Tammy West, cut the ribbon.
Inside was a TV that will let Brooke connect to Facebook and Netflix. The room also has cubbyholes that she likes. And there was also the view of Baltimore she had been promised, extending from the Key Bridge to the towers of Harbor East.
"Oh, my God. Wow, that is amazing," she said as nurses moved her hospital bed so she could gaze out the window.
"I just think of being in a peaceful place," Brooke said. "Like, if I was having chemo and I could look at this all day, I probably would not mind it as much, because of how great that looks. It kind of takes me to a peaceful place and clears my mind a little bit."
Nearly 2,500 workers will have played a part in the two-day move when it's completed.
At the command center Sunday, which is the heart of the operation, more than a dozen employees sat around a U-shaped table cluttered with laptop computers, two-way radios, coffee cups and a large box of Advil liqui-gels. A group at a back table chronicled the day's events on Twitter.
"We're really watching almost patient by patient, making sure that there are no problems along the way," said Ted Chambers, co-leader of the transition and administrator of the children's center. "It's been running perfectly smoothly right now."
Four flat-screen TVs at the front of the room tracked patients' progress, while a larger screen documented the big picture — the relocation status of a dozen departments, ranging from pediatric emergency to cardiovascular progressive care.
Just after 12:30, nurse Sherri Jones rang the cowbell to celebrate word that the first patient had left the medical ICU. On the television monitors, a box with the patient's room number changed to periwinkle. A second box with the new room number would turn to yellow once the patient arrived.
Moving sick patients is no new task to nurses and other staff at the hospital, said Robin Hunt, a Hopkins official managing the move. Every day, patients are moved to other parts of the hospital for X-rays, surgeries or other procedures.
But coordinating the move of so many at one time takes extensive planning and practice, she said. Patient safety is always the first priority. Emergency equipment was set up along the routes patients would travel to the new building; doctors were also on hand for emergencies.
"We are really doing what we do every day," Hunt said. "We have just standardized it and we've included more communication for a large group so it is more military-like."
The new hospital has a basketball court for kids, sleeper sofas for families and soundproofing that will offer patients a quieter stay. A peaceful, serene environment makes for faster healing, Hopkins doctors said. The size of the pediatric emergency department has doubled and the Johns Hopkins Heart and Vascular Institute will take up a large part of the facility.
Imaging machines will be located in operating rooms and a cell-phone based communications system will alert nurses to emergencies.
Moving several hundred "very sick patients" being cared for in one of the hospital's several intensive care units was one challenge, Chambers said. Another obstacle, he said, involved switching support functions over from the old unit.
"We have a pneumatic tube system where blood products are transported all through the institution," he said, and after the move, the hospital must ensure that everything still gets where it needs to go. "It's all part of the orchestration, the dance, of the whole process."
The staff was divided into teams. The receiving team was in the new hospital, the send-off team in the old hospital. Patients were given a set move time.
When moving patients, Hunt said, workers must pay attention to factors such as how sick a patient is and how much medical equipment they need. A group of nurses, support staff and security accompanied each patient on the 10- to 12-minute walk to the new facility.
Brooke was moved to the Charlotte R. Bloomberg children's tower, named after the mother of New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who contributed $120 million to help build the facility. The adult tower was named for Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, first president of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE and Hopkins have partnered for decades on health initiatives in the Arab world and other places.
Parts of the old facility will be used for research and office space. Old equipment will be donated to needy countries, salvaged or discarded.
As the move on the eighth-floor pediatric oncology unit drew closer, staff and patients were invited to write messages in colored ink on the windows surrounding the nurses' station, outlining things they would miss about the old unit. A handful were positive, such as the view of the iconic Hopkins dome.
Most messages, however, were facetious, showing just how welcome the move was: "Having to struggle to reach equipment in rooms." "The sink by the playroom on night shift." "Chilly nights." "Slow elevators!"
Staff and patients Sunday grabbed parts of the old building as souvenirs. Brooke grabbed a cardboard cutout of a surfer dude that had been on display in her ward and placed it on the footboard of her bed for a ride to its new home.
"I am a part of history," she said.
About the new facility
•Project cost $1.1 billion
•Main entrance is larger than a football field
•Covers 1.6 million square feet
•Contains 12,500 tons of structural steel
•Features 560 private rooms
•Uses 1,370 miles of copper wiring, enough to stretch from Baltimore to Miami
•Has 33 new operating rooms