Montana Children’s Medical Center Celebrates Opening

A collaborative effort between the center and Shriners is also launching with a July 12 ribbon cutting

By Myers Reece
Coleman Lee, 7, a patient of Kalispell Regional HealthCare, drives around the lobby of the Montana Children’s Medical Center on July 1. Kalispell Regional Healthcare opened the center with a parade of patients, hospital staff and families into the new facility. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In the span of two weeks, the Flathead Valley is welcoming two new interconnected additions to its pediatric health care landscape.

Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s long-awaited Montana Children’s Medical Center officially opened its first floor on July 1 with a parade of patients ushered into the new facility. That came on the heels of a grand-opening celebration over the weekend that offered the public an opportunity to tour the institution while enjoying food, treats and children’s activities.

Also, a collaborative effort between the new children’s center and Shriners Hospitals for Children is celebrating its opening this week. The pediatric orthopedic outreach clinic will be housed at Northwest Orthopedics & Sports Medicine in Kalispell and is holding a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11:30 a.m. on July 12.

Shriners Hospitals for Children will bring its team of orthopedic surgeons, nurses and other staff from Spokane to the Kalispell clinic every other month. Shriners Hospital treats kids up to age 18 regardless of their ability to pay.

“We want to better serve the needs of the families in Kalispell and the surrounding region by bringing our specialty medical staff closer to the communities where they live,” Spokane Shriners Hospital Administrator Peter Brewer said.

Meanwhile, the Montana Children’s Medical Center provides a home for KRH’s 40-plus pediatric specialists, which the hospital says is the largest stable of pediatric specialists in the state. Teresa Fisher, chief operating officer for the children’s center, said the collaboration with Shriners “truly rounds out our pediatric specialty medical staff.”

“Having local access to pediatric orthopedic care for the communities we serve is important to our patients and families,” Fisher said in a statement.

During a June 28 tour of the Montana Children’s Medical Center, Fisher touted the facility’s cutting-edge technology and design, guided by modern research and principles for creating ideal healing environments for kids and families. The idea is to provide high-level care in a welcoming and safe atmosphere in Montana that would otherwise require out-of-state travel.

There are technology and play areas, sleep rooms, family lounges and spacious patient rooms, which combine to provide the essential amenities families need during their stay. The main lobby has locally blown glass fish hanging from the ceiling and hologram fish “swimming” on the floor. The exterior will include two separate, secure playgrounds, which aren’t yet finished, and a donor garden in front of the building.

“There are a lot of neat new spaces for families to enjoy … elements that they currently don’t have in the space we’re now in,” Fisher said. “Be bold, be big and be unexpected. That really was the design vision. And I think we achieved it.”

The first floor is dedicated to inpatient services, featuring a 12-bed pediatric unit, six-bed pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and 12-bed neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with six additional beds shelled for future growth. The center also employs child-life specialists who are trained to incorporate therapy and play as they work with kids and families experiencing the trauma of a serious illness or medical procedure.

A portion of the second floor will offer a coffee-bistro and balcony seating, while the rest of the floor and the entire third floor are shelled for future growth, including an outpatient clinic, oncology inpatient and outpatient services, additional inpatient rooms and expanded child-life areas. The building altogether is 190,000 square feet.

The Montana Facility Finance Authority approved a bond-refinancing request that identified $60 million for the facility, with funds used to construct the entire structure and build out the first floor. The hospital is launching a fundraising campaign for the second and third floors. Carly Rickard, the center’s chief development officer, said the campaign’s goal is to raise $40 million.

Fisher said patient numbers at times in June, before the new facility opened, would have filled the first floor’s capacity. Hospital officials say the demand for pediatric services has been growing organically in recent years, while Fisher said statewide referrals have also increased recently as more health care providers learn about the center, a product of KRH outreach, marketing and word of mouth.

“The second floor expansion is an active discussion we need to have,” Fisher said. “As we grow, as we fill that need for our community and the state, we are going to need more beds.”

Amy Lee’s family is among those locally who rely on KRH’s pediatric specialists. Lee’s 7-year-old son Coleman has battled a rare gastrointestinal problem that has led to “too many surgeries to count,” as well as years of testing without identifying the condition. Coleman, who served as grand marshal in the July 1 patient parade, is constantly in and out of the hospital, and his mother said she’s “grateful to have the team for Coleman here close to home.”

Coleman has traveled for certain procedures and testing, but he has found local specialists such as Dr. Thomas Flass and Dr. Federico Seifarth who allow him and his family to consistently receive care without leaving the valley. Amy Lee said the opening of the new children’s center, with its expanded bed counts and upgraded features, will further benefit her entire family.

“This new facility is going to keep my husband and I and our other children together; we’ll be able to visit him here,” she said. “It’s a blessing for Coleman, for his healing. He’s not in the hospital as long because he has the support from friends and family visiting him.”