Piedmont Columbus Regional announced plans to create a freestanding Children’s Hospital in Columbus that is expected to open in 2024.
The former Doctors Hospital on the Piedmont Columbus Regional Midtown campus at 19th street will be transformed into the Bill and Olivia Amos Children’s Hospital. The hospital will be the only one of its kind in the region, according to a news release.
Bettye and Cecil Cheves provided a donation that made the project possible. When it was time to raise money for the hospital, Bettye said, everyone they spoke to wanted to help.
Bettye hopes they will continue finding success from reaching out to the Columbus community if more funds need to be raised going forward.
“The Cheves family’s generosity is making it possible for us to dream big in caring for our youngest patients,” said Piedmont Columbus Regional Foundation Executive Director Aline Lasseter. “We’re aspiring to achieve $20 million in community donations to make this dream become a reality.”
Keeping healthcare local
Bettye and Cecil are passionate about the hospital because of their own experiences with sick children, including their daughter who needed care that wasn’t available in Columbus.
“We almost watched her die as we drove to Atlanta because they could treat her here for something very serious that came over her,” she said. “And we’ve got two grandchildren that were critically ill and had to go elsewhere. They couldn’t be treated here.”
Currently, Piedmont can handle a lot of health challenges related to pediatric care, Cary Burcham, chief nursing officer at Piedmont, told the Ledger-Enquirer. The hospital has a pediatric emergency department, pediatric care unit that can handle low level critical care cases and neonatal services.
But if a child needs certain types of procedures or surgery from a trauma, he said, that could be beyond the scope of what the hospital can do today. Parents might have to travel around two hours back and forth to Atlanta or Birmingham to visit their children in the hospital, Burcham said. It’s a long distance to get the care that should be local, he said.
While it will take some time, he said, the day will come where the children’s hospital will be able to take care of most normal procedures in Columbus.
“The children’s hospital allows us to increase the scope of our care,” Burcham said. “We have a very grand vision for this hospital.”
What to expect from the hospital’s facilities
The 30-bed children’s hospital has five floors and will feature a pediatric inpatient unit with semi-private rooms, isolation and behavioral safe rooms, a pediatric intensive care unit and a pediatric intermediate care unit.
There will also be family-centered amenities that include an activity room, laundry facilities, food pantry, room service dining, discharge area and an outdoor playground.
Another transformational aspect of this project is an enclosed connection corridor that will be built to link the Bill and Olivia Amos Children’s Hospital to the Piedmont Columbus Regional Midtown main hospital. This corridor will provide a convenient and efficient way for employees to move equipment, and provide increased interoperability between the two main hospital buildings.
Patients can also be transported using the connection for diagnostic studies, lab tests or other reasons without needing to engage an ambulance service or go outside the building, Burcham said.
“It’s all about keeping the healthcare local and centric to Piedmont Midtown right now,” he said. “And so I think all of these pieces just began to fall together for us.”
COVID-19 was the catalyst
When the Doctors Hospital was closed in 2015, it was unclear what was going to be done with the facility, CEO Scott Hill said. Since that time, he’s been asked repeatedly what would happen with the hospital, but wasn’t able to provide an answer.
“There was a lot that happened (since then) that will take me hours to go through it all,” Hill said. “But there was one big thing that happened. It was called COVID.”
During the pandemic, it became clear to hospital officials that children needed their own space. This realization came when a decision had to be made as to whether they would shut down half of the children’s hospital pediatric unit to house adult patients because they needed more beds.
“So you’ve got children that are very young with developing immune systems,” Burcham said. “And depending on their diagnosis, they may or may not be able to accommodate being exposed to COVID. And, plus, we needed those beds.”
The Cheves family made a donation during the pandemic that was used to renovate the fifth floor of the Doctors Hospital to be used to treat COVID patients.
Officials were forced to think differently during the pandemic, Burcham said, and they realized the current “hospital within a hospital” for children’s healthcare was not the right structure. After the children are moved to the children’s hospital, Hill said, the children’s pediatric unit in the medical center will become a new intensive care unit for adults.
“The path in the future is to create this freestanding children’s hospital that provides pediatric services on a much greater scale than anything we’ve done before,” Burcham said.
Bill and Olivia Amos
The hospital’s namesakes, Bill and Olivia Amos, were Bettye’s parents, and Bill was a co-founder of Aflac. The Amos’ instilled the importance of giving back to the community and caring for children in their daughter and son-in-law, Cecil said.
“Mr. Amos openly talked about his love for his family in a way that — as a younger man — I had not experienced before,” Cecil said.
Bill and his brothers made the decision in 1955 to uproot their families from the Florida panhandle to move to a city they didn’t know anything about, Cecil said. The brothers picked Columbus off of a map because Georgia had favorable insurance laws.
“Columbus was the biggest city that did not have the home office of an insurance company,” he said. “And they did not want to be overshadowed by others.”
The family took the risk, and went door-to-door building their business, Cecil said, while suffering bumps young businesses expect to experience. Bettye and Cecil stand on Bill and Olivia’s shoulders, he said.
Ultimately, Bettye remembers her father’s love for family and his grandchildren. Every Saturday morning, when Bettye’s children were young, Bill would pick up the kids to take them on a trip to visit family and friends.
She recalled his last words.
“Look at those babies,” Bill said, opening his eyes one last time to see his grandchildren.