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After years of planning, it's go time for Children's Hospital

After years of battles, debates and plans over the future of Women & Children's Hospital, its patients and staff will move today into a new tower downtown with a new name – the John R. Oishei Children's Hospital.

How do you move a major facility that never closes, with patients of all sizes and conditions, as well as their families and all the people who care for them? You practice and prepare like crazy.

– 75,000 hours of planning since 2012 went into relocating everyone from the current Bryant Street hospital.

– 1,6o7 staff members trained to work in the new facility the moment they walk in.

– Nearly double the staff, 879 people, as well as 400 volunteers, are on hand today to simultaneously operate two major pediatric facilities and assist with the move.

All of this and much more went into taking 150 patients from Women & Children's in the Elmwood Village to Oishei on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The new hospital was named in 2012 after the John R. Oishei Foundation provided a $10 million donation toward the project.

Indeed, countless time has been spent brainstorming every possible what-if, from an ambulance experiencing a flat tire to a mass casualty incident in the city, in an operation that will begin before dawn this morning, and is likely to continue through the day and possibly into the early hours of Saturday. The thinking repeated by multiple hospital officials: focus on a smooth and safe transition, not speed.

The main entrance is a flurry of activity with hospital equipment arriving and construction equipment going as workers prepare the new John R. Oishei Children's Hospital for opening on Friday. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

The relocation will proceed with military precision – and for good reason. Moving a hospital with young patients, some of them newborn and fragile – as well as nervous parents – requires far more than cardboard boxes and packing tape.

"Nothing has been left to chance," said Jody Lomeo, president and chief executive officer of Kaleida Health.

Consider that the cost to Kaleida Health to prepare for the move – including 12 practice runs – is fairly eye-popping: $8 million. There's also the $300,000 KeyBank donated to cover expenses on move day, such as for the trucks and food for staff and volunteers.

Things will get rolling at 5 a.m. with the opening of a command center in the old hospital, a complex of seven buildings and a history that goes back to 1892.

The new $270 million Oishei building is located at 818 Ellicott St. across the road and connected on one side by a skybridge to Buffalo General Medical Center. It abuts on the other side the Conventus medical office building on Main Street that includes pediatric outpatient services that moved earlier this year from the 7.5-acre Women & Children's campus on Bryant Street. Kaleida Health leases the space in Conventus.

Women and Children's Hospital on Bryant Street is seen from the helipad door atop the new John R. Oishei Children's Hospital. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News)

What about the weather? Officials braced themselves for a forecast of cold temperatures and maybe flurries, but expressed confidence in their ability to manage things in those conditions. It's Buffalo, so officials figured only a disabling blizzard might cause a postponement at this point.

Cassandra Church, who is overseeing the move, knows what that is like. When she worked a similar move in 2016 at Inova Fairfax Children’s Hospital in Falls Church, Va., a snowstorm forced a delay.

For her, the most significant aspect of a hospital move is not the move itself, although she doesn't minimize its importance. It's making sure the hundreds of people in an old facility can walk into a new one and immediately feel at home – knowing where everything is and how everything works.

"If people are not comfortable, if you haven't trained and done adequate orientation, you set them up to fail, no matter how well you build the building," said Church, clinical project manager and director of the neonatal intensive care unit.

The plan: Transport every patient individually, starting at 7 a.m., by one of 15 American Medical Response ambulances in multiple trips according to their medical situation, although newborns will travel with their moms, and moms already in labor will deliver at the old facility. A team that includes a nurse and physician will give a "go or no-go" alert, sending patients on their way if their condition looks good and holding back any patients whose condition is questionable for the trip of little than a mile. Another team of medical personnel will receive them at Oishei.

The order of the move: The pediatric intensive care unit, and hematology/oncology unit will move first simultaneously. Once those are complete, the neonatal intensive care unit will begin at around 10:15 a.m., overlapping in the following order with the remaining patient unit transfers – labor-and-delivery, mother-baby, and medical-surgical. Parents, family members and staff will make the trip by shuttle service, unless they choose to drive themselves.

What you need to know about the Children's Hospital move

As for equipment, nearly all of it in the hospital is new. But three box trucks will transport the hundreds of remaining items that will make the trip from the old to the new hospital.

Overall, it's a complicated initiative that could take upwards of 24 hours, considering that five separate city routes were mapped out to accommodate the vehicles arriving and returning with patients, equipment and families and staff.  But, presuming all goes well, the careful preparation for the relocation has elicited praise from just about every corner – hospital administrators, of course, but also doctors, nurses and the many other personnel responsible for running a hospital.

Allegra C. Jaros, president of Women & Children's, expressed confidence in all the preparations over the years that have culminated in this moment for her and her colleagues.

"It's a proud and momentous day," she said.

Photo Gallery: Explore the John R. Oishei Children's Hospital

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