Dr. Joseph Wiley, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Sinai, stands in one of the new patient rooms at the new Herman and Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai.
Dr. Joseph Wiley, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Sinai, stands in one of the new patient rooms at the new Herman and Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai. (Baltimore Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)

The new Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai will boast some of the latest medical technology, but just as important is its expanded playroom.

When the building opens to patients next month, it will feature a playroom 50 percent larger than the one in the building it replaces, video game consoles in every room and other amenities designed to make the hospital stay less intimidating to a child and help speed up recovery.

"There is good evidence that if you engage children in play and activity, they have better outcomes," said Dr. Joseph M. Wiley, the hospital's chief of pediatrics. "They recover faster. They handle their illnesses in a better fashion."

LifeBridge Health, which also owns Sinai Hospital of Baltimore, is spending $29.5 million, including $5 million from the state, to replace the affiliated children's hospital after 53 years in the same building. Wiley said the hospital is reacting to demand after noticing several years ago that it didn't always have enough, or appropriate, rooms to place patients.

Once patients move into the new building on March 19, the old facility will be renovated and converted into a place for outpatient procedures. For example, a child who needs sedation for an MRI will use the older building. The new hospital is to the left of the main entrance of Sinai Hospital.

Children's medical services are a growing niche and upgraded facilities will help better serve patients, said health analyst Joshua Nemzoff.

"There's not a lot of children's hospitals, and most of them provide outstanding quality, so they're very much in demand by patients," said Nemzoff with Nemzoff & Co. LLC.

LifeBridge joins other area hospitals that also have finished renovations recently. In 2010, Mercy Medical Center opened a $400 million, 20-story downtown Baltimore hospital with private rooms featuring flat-screen televisions and sleeper-sofas, as well as state-of-the-art operating rooms, public gardens and a chapel.

The University of Maryland Medical Center plans to build a nine-story addition to its Shock Trauma Center to address higher demand for emergency and critical care services. The current building dates to 1989 and was intended to serve 3,500 patients annually but now admits more than 8,000.

Johns Hopkins Hospital is replacing its aging East Baltimore facility with a $1.1 billion, 1.6 million-square-foot hospital building. Hopkins plans to open the new building in April.

Upgrades and expansions also are planned, under way or completed at St. Agnes, Franklin Square, Northwest Hospital and Maryland General.

The decision to build many of these hospitals was made years ago, before the recession hit and when credit was readily available. New buildings allow hospitals to better serve patients and can save on energy and labor costs because they operate more efficiently.

The Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital is named after two late Baltimore brothers and real estate magnates. The Herman & Walter Samuelson Foundation donated the initial $4 million for renovations. Private donations paid for most of the hospital's construction and outfitting.

The hospital in Northwest Baltimore offers 26 private rooms, five more than in the old building. The rooms are designed with sleep and work areas for parents, so families can be involved in care. The hospital now serves up to 2,100 patients a year and can accommodate as many as 2,800 annually in the new building.

"The parents become part of the health care team," Wiley said. "We talk to them constantly about their ideas and concerns."

There are isolation rooms for the sickest patients and a HEPA lounge area where the air is clean enough for patients with problems that compromise the immune system, such as organ transplants. The hospital specializes in a number of pediatric practices, including cancer, bowel disease, cardiology and endocrinology.

The new hospital also will include updated equipment such as centralized nursing stations and a computerized system that keeps track of medications by bar code.

Other kid-friendly features include a Build-A-Bear retail store and a live broadcast from the National Aquarium piped into each room.

"We wanted to try and make it comfortable but not Chuck E. Cheese," Wiley said.