The $224 million Borowy Family Children’s Critical Care Tower is home to a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and several other specialized care units.

August 18, 2022

Empathic Design Makes Borowy Children’s Critical Care Tower Special

Haskell's design team took great care to create “a high-tech, high-touch building that supports the humanity” of the Wolfson Children's Hospital mission.


Early in the planning stages of the Borowy Family Children’s Critical Care Tower Frank Brooks walked through an area in Wolfson Children’s Hospital where young patients routinely face life-threatening conditions. It was an enduring reminder of the project’s importance.

He felt such empathy for the “little ones with all the technology around them” at the Jacksonville hospital and for their parents, who were living their greatest fear. It brought heightened awareness to the project for Brooks, a Client Manager for Haskell.

“We have a responsibility to do it right, to do the best we can,” he thought at the time. “They’re relying on our team.”

Ted Moore, who is Operations Manager, Architecture, with Haskell’s Healthcare Design Division, was one of those parents. “They’re just special,” he said of Wolfson. “They helped me with my kids when they had issues.”

The Haskell team, which also included Project Architect Rebecca Lednev, took extraordinary measures to make sure the $224 million project would meet the needs of the patients, their families, and the staff for years to come. The seven-story project broke ground in May 2019 and officially opened in April 2022.

The first two floors serve as the welcome center and administrative offices for Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Baptist Medical Center. A skybridge connects to the tower’s second floor, allowing people to cross safely over a busy street from a nearby parking garage. The floors also include conference areas and a mezzanine, which creates a stunning two-story entrance.

The remaining five floors are the heart of Wolfson’s work, dedicated to high-level, lifesaving care for children. The 75-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) spans three floors, with the other floors housing a 50-bed Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), a neuro-intensive care unit, a cardiovascular care unit and a burn and wound unit.

Focusing on Patient, Staff Needs

Brooks said the project started as an entry building for the downtown campus. But the hospital expanded the scope to include neonatal and pediatrics critical care, a 2,200-space parking garage and an expanded welcome center.

The focus was on creating an environment that met the needs of the young patients, their families, and the hospital staff. The previous NICU area was an open space, with only curtains offering privacy to families in the small bays.

“It was noisy and lacked privacy,” Brooks said. “There was no place for a family.”

Now, patients have a private room large enough for their parents to stay in. There are even rooms for families with twins. Having parents in the room is essential to build a connection with their child and promote healing and development, Brooks said, especially when the hospital stay is extended, as these usually are.

“The length of stay in a NICU is measured in weeks, not days,” he said. “That’s why it’s important the family has a place to stay, participate in the care and know that they’re supported.”

Getting to the final design of the NICU’s rooms came after the Haskell team built a full mockup of the four-patient-room pod with two different sized rooms completely outfitted with furniture, finishes and equipment as they would be upon completion.

Moore said the headwall – which is at the head of the patient’s bed and contains things like oxygen, suction, hoses, lights, and electrical outlets – “went through five full-blown iterations” before it was finalized.

Once the third version of the headwall was up, the clinical teams began running multiple scenarios with a hypothetical patient to see how each played out in the space. What if a patient codes? What if they have a burn on a particular side? What if they are on dialysis? Numerous refinements resulted from these efforts.

The Haskell team also investigated infection control, safety, and maintenance situations, such as whether the sinks were deep enough and if water would splash on the floor when someone was taking a shower.

Lednev said they did a day in the life of nurses to capture their movements. Among their findings was the need for a designated room for the nurses to wash the carts they use. This may have never been discovered if not for the "day in the life” exercise.

They replicated the process for the PICU area, which has different needs than NICU. Plus, they sought feedback from other employees through Survey Monkey. The investment in extra steps like the mockups and the test scenarios is not something all clients make. But Wolfson Children’s Hospital President Michael Aubin had a clear vision for the project and a commitment to creating something special. He advocated for the extra efforts needed to achieve a world class facility such as this one, Brooks said.

Lednev agreed. “A lot of clients don’t go through the expense and the time,” she said. “This client was very concerned about it.”

The Work That’s Unseen

A lot of work the public will never see was done what the beginning of the project. The building’s utilities had to be rerouted underground because they previously ran through a garage that needed to be demolished. In the best of circumstances, that is difficult. This was not the best of circumstances.

The site where Baptist Health and Wolfson Children’s Hospital are located used to be where years before farmers crossed the river with cows. Then it was an ostrich farm. “The soil there is horrible,” Moore said.

Plus, the St. Johns River essentially flows under the hospital, so the structure must have deep caissons and piling foundations. At times, workers were digging by hand to navigate sub-surface utilities and manage ground water.

The design and construction team had to be mindful of noise and vibration while working. “Many times, the hospital clinical staff would say, ‘We can’t operate,’ and we’d shut it down,” Moore said.

Raising the Bar for Design

The visual impact of the project is apparent the minute you approach the building or enter the two-story lobby and continue to the other floors. Each patient floor has a biome theme, such as a farm, forest, grassland, or ocean. The hospital commissioned five pieces of art, including aethereal, reflecting light piece by renowned artist Soo Sunny Park which hangs in the two-story atrium. Rulon wood made in St. Augustine adds special warmth to the ceiling. There are large murals on selected walls serving as additional art and wayfinding elements.

But the true impacts go far beyond the building aesthetics and airy, welcoming lobby. They are in the facility and functional changes – big and small – made to better serve patients, their families, the public and employees.

Brooks calls the project a “high-tech and high-touch building that supports the humanity” of what happens at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Lednev said it is one of her favorite projects.

For Moore, it is a little more personal. “They’re just special,” he said. “They helped me with my kids when they had issues.”

A sentiment that will be shared by even more families because of this project.

Haskell’s team of Healthcare Consulting, Design and Construction divisions help health systems provide patients and families the highest quality of care. Contact us to discuss your facility needs.

Haskell delivers $2± billion annually in Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) and Consulting solutions to assure certainty of outcome for complex capital projects worldwide. Haskell is a global, fully integrated, single-source design-build and EPC firm with over 2,200 highly specialized, in-house design, construction and administrative professionals across industrial and commercial markets. With 20+ office locations around the globe, Haskell is a trusted partner for global and emerging clients.

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