Philadelphia’s massive, $1.6 billion hospital gives new meaning to accessibility

Written by By Melissa Keir, CNN For the first time, Philadelphia has a brand new, sprawling $1.6 billion hospital, designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind. The 80-acre medical center is also the largest of…

Philadelphia's massive, $1.6 billion hospital gives new meaning to accessibility

Written by By Melissa Keir, CNN

For the first time, Philadelphia has a brand new, sprawling $1.6 billion hospital, designed by renowned architect Daniel Libeskind.

The 80-acre medical center is also the largest of its kind in the United States — and was especially designed to encourage healing. To achieve that goal, the buildings are clad in a curved glass that opens up views of the outdoors.

Daniel Libeskind shows off a model of his plan for the new facility. Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

“It’s about light and land,” says Daniel Libeskind, the designer of the original World Trade Center. “Architecture that is engaging and welcome rather than sterile and sterile.”

The hospital began as an expression of local outrage at the rates of premature deaths in local hospitals. The region’s main hospital system, Jefferson Health, became dissatisfied with the 8% mortality rate of its obstetrics and pediatrics ward at the time of the plan, the organizers said in a statement.

“There were so many fatalities of babies after delivering,” said the event’s organizer, Rev. Harry A. Rhodes, a retired Pennsylvania Catholic priest. “I just said we gotta do something, we have to do something.”

Earlier versions of the design

The overall structure is largely made up of modern-looking buildings — such as glass towers and dormitory-style buildings. But there are old-school touches, like the famous outdoor piazza, designed by architect Cass Gilbert, and an outdoor memorial where patients from the now-closed Philadelphia General Hospital are buried.

“The feeling is almost some kind of fever dream, with the ambulances driving down the street, the lights of the hospital overlooking the boulevard,” Libeskind said during the unveiling ceremony.

Some of the 30,000-square-foot courtyard is made of steel and glass columns. Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

“It’s not a big hospital, but they do a lot of really good things.”

In a statement, Randall P. Weiss, Jefferson Health’s president and CEO, said that “we’re very excited to have delivered this world-class new facility.”

Eventually, Jefferson Health said, it hopes to use the new facility to train medical professionals. The hospital offers neurosurgery, rehabilitation, speech therapy, family care, plus, perhaps most fittingly, gynecology and obstetrics.

A new building in a new city

Even if the health care itself is new, the hospital is actually the city’s fifth. According to Rhodes, it was built on a “scape of the white roads” — avenues that replaced residential streets in the 19th century.

But Rhodes hopes the hospital’s addition to the city’s skyline will inspire others. It has become a focal point for the community. Many visit during the morning for cardio-pulmonary resuscitation classes. It also hosts health and wellness, leadership and career development programs for the local community. And locals flock to hang out in the outdoor mall-like central pavilion.

The interior, too, has its own diverse feeling. In one half of the interior are rooms resembling comfortable sofas. In the other, cold modern furniture and rows of sleek lights fill the room.

The design firm KNB works with Jefferson Health to bring patients into its hospitals, both interior and exterior. Credit: Elliott Alemayehu/Design Pics/Getty Images North America/Getty Images

Liberty Bell: the med-tech revolution?

When completed in 2020, the hospital will have 600 beds. Up next for the hospital: There will be a location in Northern Philadelphia, Rhodes said.

This year marked the opening of 1,000 dedicated hospice beds, called the Advocates for the Elderly Center (DAEC). Shortly after, it also received its grant to digitize its patient record and asset database.

Life expectancy of American Americans will continue to increase because of advances in medical care, such as improved access to prescription drugs, according to Benjamin Ayers, vice president of the Dartmouth Atlas Project. He says that they are making progress in primary care and understanding and managing chronic illnesses.

On Monday, Ayers told CNN’s Dan Simon that recent advances in GPS technology and AI are also opening up new avenues to improving preventative care for health.

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