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Patients, staff move from Women & Children's to new Oishei Children's Hospital

Avery Schneider

"Move Day" began at 7 a.m. Friday for the staff and patients of Women & Children's Hospital, as they took the 1.2 mile journey to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and settle into their new home at the Oishei Children's Hospital. Follow this page for updates throughout the day.

6:30 p.m.

At 5:28 p.m., the last patient left Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo for the last time. Just 14 minutes later, that patient was tucked in for the night in the neonatal intensive care unit at Oishei Children’s Hospital, capping 125 transports in less than 12 hours.

The day had started just after 5 a.m. with a prayer for safe travels and good results by Reverend Al Warner, chaplain of the Buffalo Common Council. It ended with that request fulfilled.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
As Reverend Al Warner gave a final prayer, the last remaining hospital staff were gathered, holding flickering electric candles. Warner said they represented a light that isn’t being extinguished.

“When I looked online at how sitcom finales happen, they happen when the lights are turned off. The lights aren’t being turned off on this hospital. This isn’t the sitcom coming to an end,” Warner reflected. “This is a new beginning.”

Hospital leaders were beaming with pride at their staff and the day’s success. With tears in his eyes, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Stephen Turkovich said not many communities can say they did what the Children’s team did.

Clinical Logistics Lead Cassie Church, who had been brought in as a consultant and supervisor, said this was her third full hospital move. Her first was moving a neonatal intensive care unit. Her second was an entire children’s hospital in northern Virginia.

“But it didn’t feel like this,” said Church. “We did not have the outpouring and we did not have the community support, the partnerships.”

One of the standout moments of the day for Church was meeting an employee named Jason. As he manned the elevators, ensuring patients prepared for transport out of the neonatal intensive care unit had a ride ready and waiting, Church asked how long he had been working in the hospital.

“[Jason] said he’d worked with Kaleida for 23 years,” Church recalled. “And he said, ‘You know, I was born here.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that’s amazing. What a great story.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you guys kept me alive for six months.’ So he was a NICU baby who got to move every NICU baby out. That just doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
The Oishei Children's Hospital is lit up with life on its first night of open operation.

Before the crowd of staff celebrated the day with a champagne toast and a final march out of the building, Children’s’ longest-tenured NICU nurse, 45-year veteran Donna Alessi thanked the staff for their hard work. With a cheering hoot, she said the best thing about it is, “Hoo hoo for Buffalo.”

So at the end of a long day, what came next?

Night shift.

The Oishei Children’s Hospital is open for business.

Check out WBFO's Children's Hospital "Move Day" Photo Gallery.

5:00 p.m.

It was a smooth process all day long for the patients and staff, and the last couple of hours leading to 5 p.m. were no different. That good news was coupled with a number of historic firsts, from four babies being born, to the first surgery, and even the first Mercy Flight landing on the Oishei Children's Hospital's dedicated helipad. It’s clear that the community is well aware of where they need to go for care.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Signs outside the new Oishei Children's Hospital announce that they're open to the public.

Equally as important as staff and patients in the day’s move are the families. Kaleida Health CEO Jody Lomeo talked to many of those spending time at the hospital with their loved ones and said emotions have run the gauntlet.

“It goes from a little bit of a little anxiety – they’re moving their loved ones – to now when they come here and they see this facility, and they obviously see the care, and they’re used to the care that they’ve gotten on the Bryant Street campus," said Lomeo. "They come here and the freshness, the brightness, the comfort the colors – it’s been great and I couldn’t be more happy for them.”

What was originally planned to be a 24 hour move is expected to wrap up some time early this evening. Lomeo said extra time was built into the schedule just in case any patient situations were more difficult than expected. He said the key lesson of the day is that planning and preparation are “gold” to a move like this one.

4:00 p.m.

WBFO's Avery Schneider gives a live update from outside Oishei Children's Hospital in the 4 o'clock hour.

3:00 p.m. — Afternoon move update

Ambulances were still on the move from Women and Children’s Hospital to the new Oishei Children’s Hospital in the 3 o'clock hour. The long day for patients and staff wasn't quite over yet.

In the few hours since it opened for business at 7 a.m., the Oishei Children’s Hospital saw some historic firsts. A baby boy was born at 12:12 p.m. (he’s expected to get some special treatment from the executive team), and the first surgery was performed in the hospital’s state-of-the-art operating room.

Back at Women & Children’s on Bryant Street, there was some additional good news. The last baby to be born there was welcomed into the world in the 9 o’clock hour. As of 3:15, the old hospital was about two thirds empty, and the move was on track to wrap up ahead of schedule. All that’s left was a portion of the pediatric intensive care unit and the remainder of the neonatal intensive care unit.

Cassie Church, the nurse in charge of the day's operation, said moving the children being cared for in the NICU is one of the more complex steps of the day.

“They are sick, they are fragile, but they are absolutely resilient," said Church. "And we have one of the best clinical teams around to deal with that. It is an area where we have a transport team that transports sick neo-nates around Western New York all of the time. It’s just more, more babies. But people who do it every day.”

The number of patients moved to the new hospital was somewhere in the high 70s to low 80s. That number kept changing, so hospital officials were always working on an update.

2:00 p.m. — Work to be done in a quickly emptying hospital

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Staff from the Labor and Delivery Unit kick back after a busy morning getting their patients ready to roll. Before the unit was cleared, the last two babies were born.

Across the various buildings and floors of Women & Children's Bryant Street Campus, staff and volunteers were doing the less glamorous, but no less important work of packaging up supplies and equipment. Some even took the time to enjoy their hard work with a little well-deserved relaxation. Check out this photo galleryto see what things looked like after the patients were gone.

1:00 p.m. — Three of the 1000 pairs of helping hands

Close to 800 employees are on duty for "move day" as patients continue to be transported to the new Oishei Children’s Hospital, but they’re not working alone.

WBFO’s Avery Schneider spoke with some of the people giving their personal time to make the move a success.

Mary Schmidt of Tonawanda, Shirley Romesburg of Blasdell, and Diane Nowatzki of Lancaster are among the nearly 1000 volunteers helping keep staff moving out of Women & Children’s Hospital. Schmidt, who spent a decade working here as a nurse's aide and ward clerk in the 1970s, said all three were helping in the cafeteria during the busy morning hours.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Mary Schmidt of Tonawanda, Shirley Romesburg of Blasdell, and Diane Nowatzki of Lancaster are among the nearly 1000 volunteers helping keep staff moving out of Women & Children’s Hospital.

“Wherever they need a pair of hands, we’re just there," said Schmidt. "We’re cleaning up. Later on we’ll switch out and do some of the serving and whatever, to make sure all the other volunteers and staff that’s still here has a little sustenance.”

Romesburg developed a personal connection to the hospital when her daughter spent months as a patient. It’s what drove her to become a volunteer.

“And I just realized how important everybody was," said Romesburg. "Not just the doctors and the nurses, but the volunteers that came in. Everybody that worked in every capacity just like Diane did. It was just a big team that worked together.”

That work goes on as patients continue to be transported out of the hospital, into ambulances, and over to the new Oishei Children’s Hospital.

12:00 p.m.

WBFO's Avery Schneider gives a live update on "Move Day" from Women & Children's Hospital in the noon hour.

11:00 a.m.

Transports continued to leave the Bryant Street Campus of Women & Children’s one after another in the 11 o’clock hour.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
An ambulance wrapped in an advertisement for the move lines up for another transport outside the entrance to Women & Children's Hospital on Bryant Street.

12 patients have been moved from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, six from Hematology/Oncology, another six from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and one mother in the early stages of labor was deemed safe enough to transport without giving birth in an ambulance.

That brings the full count at Oishei to 25, plus a handful of new patients, including mothers going into labor and two emergency department visits. Doctors are even discussing performing the first surgery in the new building.

Clinical Logistics Lead Cassie Church said there haven’t been any major challenges with patient moves. Each one gets an individual assessment for whether or not they’re ready to go.

“It’s really up to them to let us know that they’re stable enough,” said Church. “And whether that’s a lab value, or a situational thing, or an emotional thing. So, luckily, for our pediatric patients, we have child life specialists working with the kiddos that might need a little bit of soothing. We’re doing some education with the moms on why we’re using the type of car seats we’re using, how you dress a baby that goes into a car seat on a cold day like this. But it’s really up to the patients.”

Only one minor hiccup came in the form of an elevator malfunction, but like every other aspect of the day’s plan, hospital staff had it covered with four elevator technicians already on site.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Clinical Logistics Lead Cassie Church is the nurse in charge of the move from WCHOB to OCH.

Six hours into the day’s activities – including a couple of hours of prep with command teams – staff are still going strong.

“They are incredibly excited, very emotional. We’ve had a lot of cheering and clapping and high fives taking place. And definitely some tears and reminiscing,” said Church. “But everybody is very energized at this moment.”

Medical staff work normal shifts of 12 hours. To accommodate the move, some of those shifts have been offset by one or two hours.

In a hospital that’s used to seeing 3,000 deliveries per year, everyone is still waiting to find out who will be the final mother to give birth before the doors to Women & Children’s close.

9:00 a.m.

WBFO's Avery Schneider gives a live update on "Move Day" in the 9 o'clock hour.

“So far so good,” said Kaleida Health CEO Jody Lomeo, describing the progress of the move.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Kaleida Health CEO Jody Lomeo

The Hematology/Oncology Unit at Women & Children’s was completely vacated by 9 a.m., with all patients moved to their new spaces at the Oishei Children’s Hospital so smoothly that one child even slept through the entire ride.

Clinical Logistics Lead Cassie Church said with so much practice in the past months, the move is going “beautifully.”

“It is amazing to see from the first iteration to today, how well people took the lessons learned into account, how well they’re working together as a team. That the timing has worked out, that our partners with AMR sort of know what we do, and we know what they do. We transport patients every day, but we don’t usually transport this volume,” said Church.

Even while the move is underway, the usual business of both hospitals isn’t stopping.

At 8:22 a.m., a lullaby played over the loudspeaker, announcing the second to last baby expected to be born at Women & Children’s Hospital was welcomed into the world.

As Oishei opened to the public at 7 a.m., its first labor and delivery admission came through the doors. Since then, two patients were admitted to the new emergency department, and one to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Credit Avery Schneider / WBFO News
Snow flurries around the ambulance loading point, seen from inside the Women & Children's Hospital cafeteria.

Shortly after 9 a.m., snow flurries could be seen blowing around the area where ambulances were continuing to load patients for transport, but quickly cleared. The only element of weather having any real effect on the move is the day’s record cold temperatures. However, staff were already prepared with 500 blankets in warming stations at both the Women & Children’s exit and the Oishei entrance, and added about 100 more.

The initial 125 patients being cared for at the hospital when the move started is still the number officials are reporting.

“Throughout the day, kids are really funny on how quickly they can get better. So we might have a few more discharges,” said Church.

Next up on the departure list is the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Once their move is complete, the move will be paused for a debriefing in the command center at Women & Children’s. Staff will review the lessons learned in the first few hours, and make any needed adjustments for the rest of the day.

After the break, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit team will begin making their way to Oishei. No challenges are expected.

“They haven’t had any acuity changes or stability changes that we’ve needed to modify anything for, and the team’s really, really excited. So, they’re ready,” said Church.

The hospital’s staff are no stranger to making their young patients feel as comfortable and in control as possible. One of the best examples, described by Church, is the departure from the Hematology/Oncology Unit.

“They allowed every child that was awake – because of course one was asleep – to pick their own magic word,” said Church. “And we did a countdown as every stretcher left the unit. And at the end of the countdown everybody got to shout their own word, and out they went to their ambulance.”

As the patients arrived in Oishei, they received a similar welcome. Parents helped staff decide how their children would enter a wing of the hospital where patients faces are familiar – what Church calls the fabric of the hospital.

“It’s been pretty amazing to see,” said Church. “The emotions are high, but in a positive way.”

As of Wednesday, 400 volunteers were expected to help make the move possible. As of Friday morning, the number at both hospitals is up to 1000.

The move is still expected to take about 24 hours.

7:45 a.m.

Kaleida Health, the parent company of both hospitals, has been overseeing the planning of the new hospital for years. CEO Jody Lomeo gave WBFO’s Howard Riedel an early update on how “Move Day” is going.

Listen to Morning Edition host Howard Riedel interviewing Kaleida Health CEO Jody Lomeo’s on the start of the children’s hospital move.

7:00 a.m.

After being prepared for transport by the PICU team, Olivia Reger, a 12 year old patient, became the first to leave Women & Children’s Hospital.

Just 11 minutes later, Reger arrived at the Oishei Children's Hospital.

5:00 a.m.

Command center staff are in place at Women & Children's Hospital where they will monitor every step of "Move Day." The full move is expected to take at least 24 hours.

Coming up at 7 a.m., the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and Hematology/Oncology Unit will be the first to move simultaneously. Every patient will be given a "go" or "no-go" status by a doctor and nurse. Anyone not cleared or considered stable enough to transport will be moved to a later time on the schedule.

RELATED STORY: Children's Hospital is moving - here's what you need to know

15 ambulances and transport teams from American Medical Response will take patients from the main entrance at Women & Children's and head eastbound on Bryant Street, south on Delaware Avenue, east on North Street, and south on Ellicott Street to the main entrance at Oishei Children's Hospital. Then they'll circle back for more patients.

Also at 7 a.m., the emergency department at Women & Children's will be closed. At the same time, the emergency department at Oishei will be open to the public. Anyone needing medical care is asked to head to the new hospital at that time. All other services in both hospitals will be fully staffed until the move is completed.

Follow WBFO's Avery Schneider on Twitter at @SAvery131 for updates throughout the day.

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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