By 7 a.m., all the signs of celebration were at the ready, and more would unfurl as the day's momentous activities took place: balloons lined the hallways, "big scissors” were on hand for a ribbon cutting ceremony, friends and colleagues hugged in celebration, music performed by members of the Philadelphia Orchestra filled the air, and hundreds of employees and volunteers proudly wore custom T-shirts in a rainbow of colors.
It was Saturday, October 30, and the Penn Medicine team was set to complete a major milestone in its history, officially opening the doors of the 1.5 million-square-foot future-ready Pavilion, an expansion of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP). Over the course of the day, staff would transport 310 patients from HUP into the new facility. The moment marked the end of more than four years of construction, collaborative planning, hiring, and training, and officially ushered in the next era of Penn's history of pioneering “firsts” in medicine. With advanced technology, reimagined care options, and a focus on hospitality and sustainability, the Pavilion is a major expansion for HUP, positioning the entire hospital to represent the next generation of advances in patient care.
Hundreds of Penn Medicine employees played a critical role in the opening of the Pavilion, and many of them gathered in HUP's Ravdin lobby — speakers pumping tunes including the “Rocky” theme song and the Black Eyed Peas' “Let's Get It Started” — on Saturday morning to rally before the move kicked off. Alyson Cole, associate executive director for Transition Planning and Occupancy, HUP, addressed the crowd and shared a reflection written by Caterina Mako, DMin, director of Pastoral Care at HUP, which captured the living, breathing efforts of so many during the years leading up to the Pavilion's opening:
“Make no mistake, the Pavilion is more than a building,” Mako wrote. “That building has a soul.”
‘I've Never Had So Much Applause’
At 9:07 a.m., the announcement came over the public address system:
“The Pavilion patient move has begun.”
Cardiac surgery patient Sherry Sukol was the first of the 310 patients to move over to the new Pavilion on Saturday.
Her nurse, Jill Welch, BSN, RN, stayed by Sukol's side as her bed was wheeled from her old room in the cardiac surgery progressive care unit on Silverstein 10, down the elevator, and across a bridge filled with pink and white balloons tied to rose gold garland strings. As the group made their way across the bridge, the applause began. HUP CEO Regina Cunningham, PhD, RN, volunteer escorts, and a crowd of Penn Medicine staff and leaders from across the health system were among those clapping and cheering when, at 9:12 a.m., Sukol entered the Pavilion.
Although Sukol, 70, would have preferred not to be in the hospital at all — let alone recovering from open-heart surgery — she smiled and did her best royal wave for the onlookers.
“I'll tell you, I've never had so much applause,” Sukol told her transporters.
Nurse Tricia Shustock, BSN, RN, PCCN, greeted Sukol at her new room on the ninth floor of the Pavilion. “Welcome to 9 Campus. Wait until you see the view. You're going to absolutely love it.”
Sukol complimented the view through her expansive window, and the spaciousness of her new room, but she reserved most of her praise for “the best nurses on the planet” and the rest of the care team that had helped her through her surgery. It was they, she said, who deserved all the applause and attention of the day. In her lap lay a red heart-shaped pillow — designed to relieve pressure from coughing, on which her night nurse, Nicholas Phillips, RN, had written a message of encouragement.
“I'd like to emphasize the very skilled and competent work of Dr. Michael Acker, who enabled me to come through this surgery so well, and the unbelievable nurse practitioners and nursing staff who successfully got me through this procedure,” Sukol said. As she settled into her room, Acker, chief of Cardiovascular Surgery, popped in to say hello.
A few doors down from Sukol's room, Jonathan Shelly, 60, was also settling into his new room, learning how to control the window shade with a remote control. Shelly, who received a heart transplant a week earlier, was fairly nonplussed about the move, saying the care he had received was of far greater importance. At the same time, he reflected on the potential healing power of the new space, with its views of Philadelphia, for a patient who might be anxious or worried.
In his old room, “you looked out the window and saw a metal wall,” Shelly said. “Coming here, you have a very different set-up — beautiful light. I like looking out. It keeps the mind moving. That can help somebody possibly speed up the process of healing.”
Behind the Scenes Heroes
With Sukol, Shelly, and other patients off to their new rooms in the Pavilion, the rooms on Silverstein 10 were momentarily empty before representatives from the Environmental Services (EVS) team moved in to clear out and clean up — setting the stage for more advances, renovations, and transformations at HUP to come.
Jamella Lake, who has been with EVS for 17 years, has witnessed a lot of changes across the HUP campus. She can recall a time where she would run to the Potbelly Sandwich Shop at Penn Tower for lunch or walk across the street to CHOP and get McDonald's. Luckily for employees and patients alike, the Pavilion will now house much healthier options, such as celebrity chef Tom Colicchio's fast-casual health care concept Root and Sprig.
Lake stopped to reflect while she was cleaning out the empty rooms. “It feels weird cleaning an empty hospital,” she said. “I'm used to seeing a lot of people throughout my shift. I'm excited to get over to the Pavilion.”
For Lake — and the other members of the EVS team who are so very critical to the Pavilion move — the events of the day provided an opportunity to recount what once was while also looking ahead to new memories.
ED Changeover: Transitioning to a New Era
Earlier in the morning, before the historic patient move, cheers resounded around 6:45 a.m., as the outgoing and incoming nursing teams changed shifts at the Emergency Department (ED) in HUP's Silverstein building for the last time. Normally busy and noisy, the space was quiet and calm as the last few patients were discharged or admitted.
Amid the celebrations, some of the department's veterans felt a tug of nostalgia. Going on 25 years at Penn Medicine, Quality and Safety Coordinator Jennifer Barger, MSN, BSN, RN, been part of the team who helped design the present ED, and working there cemented a bond the team will take across the street. “Across the street is huge, and I'm excited about the rooms, the technology, and the décor,” she noted. “But I am going to miss the closeness and togetherness we have here, too.”
At 7 a.m., the Pavilion ED opened for business, and staff waiting for patients to arrive tried to become familiar with their new surroundings, which will likely never again be as empty. Clinical Nurse Diane Lawson, MSN, RN, CEN, stood outside the “forward flow lounge,” its brand-new armchairs still wearing their hangtags, and cradled some fish stickers she had taken from the old ED's staff space, nicknamed the “fishbowl.”
“Yesterday I had to take one last walk around,” said Lawson, who has been at HUP since 1986 and is now on her fourth ED space. She liked the new ED's room design, “because it's going to be easier for us to do our work more efficiently — the things I need will be on my side, the things the doctors need will be on their side.” The vastly bigger space was a side benefit, Lawson joked: “I'm gonna get my steps in every day!”
Physician Iris M. Reyes, MD, a professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine who has been with Penn Medicine for 25 years, called the morning “bittersweet” as she contemplated all the opportunities the new space offered for providing even better patient care, while also turning her thoughts back across the street. “I could stop in front of every room and memories of all the patients come flooding back,” she said. “But I'm excited to be here on the first day of the new ED, for the transition to a new era.”
“The time has come,” said charge nurse Ernie Kwiatkowski, RN. “I'm not sentimental.”
Ultimately, with the Pavilion ED's bigger footprint and resources for enhancing patient flow, he thinks the new space will go a long way to toward improving patient satisfaction. No matter where he and his colleagues are working, he commented, “We have to get patients taken care of and that doesn't change. This has more bells and whistles, but by and large it's a ‘people thing' and the nurses, doctors, and techs making it work.”
Excellence Starting at the Main Entrance
In the midst of the still-quiet Pavilion lobby, the “Decoding the Tree of Life” sculpture stood tall, complete with hundreds of glass beads. Sunlight played across the “Field and Sky” mural, made up of a kaleidoscope of brightly-colored geometric shapes. And patient ambassadors, donning their infamous red coats and smiles (albeit masked), eagerly awaited the opportunity to answer questions and spread cheer. The ambassadors are the first members of the Penn Medicine team patients and guests will see in the Pavilion, and they're ready to provide a sense of hope and calm, setting the stage for the Penn Medicine Pavilion experience.
Conneisha Turner-Goines, a patient ambassador for Patient and Guest Relations, manned the lobby's information desk on opening day, armed with a campus map and information binder. “I've watched the Pavilion being built from the ground up, so to be sitting here today is incredible. I am so enthused to have this opportunity.”
As part of her role, Turner-Goines, alongside a team of patient ambassadors, assists guests with questions, wayfinding, and transportation. Most importantly, patient ambassadors aim to make guests feel welcome and comfortable.
“Our department operates as a team — that's why we are so successful,” said Turner-Goines. In support of team collaboration, more recently hired patient ambassadors were paired with seasoned employees to ensure a seamless transition. Pamela Washington, a new employee who was specifically hired to work at the Pavilion, has been with Penn Medicine for six weeks. On opening day, Washington sat beside Turner-Goines, a six-year employee.
“I've been watching how Conneisha interacts with our guests and modeling my behavior based on her example,” said Washington. “For us, customer service always comes first. We truly want our patients to have the best possible experience.”
Further down the lobby, two-year patient ambassador Robert Dantonio was paired with Christopher Kan, who was just beginning his fifth day of work. “Being in a hospital can be an overwhelming experience,” explained Dantonio. “We try to help the patients ease into their experience. Ultimately, we want to make sure people don't feel alone.”
For Turner-Goines, this was just the beginning, as she looked forward to the countless patient and guest interactions to come.
“I want to be talked about,” said Turner-Goines. “I want people to come back and see me. Visiting Penn Medicine isn't just about getting the best care — it's about getting the best overall experience.”
Additional credits: ‘I've Never Had So Much Applause' by Daphne Sashin; Behind the Scenes Heroes by Tristan Epps; ED Changeover: Transitioning to a New Era by Meredith Mann; and Excellence Starting at the Main Entrance (words and photos) by Nicole Fullerton.