Before Morris “Mo” Stein put his pencil to paper, he said his vision for Montana Children’s at Kalispell Regional Medical Center already had been realized, and it’s a vision that, after nearly five years of planning and building, is slated to open its doors to the public on July 1.
Stein, a principal and senior vice president for HKS Architects, knew two things going into what would become the multi-year, multi-million dollar undertaking of bringing to life a children’s hospital officials say outpaces all other pediatric centers in the state. The space that’s about to open is the first of three phases of the roughly $60 million project.
First, Stein knew the structure’s bones — from the interior to the exterior — would reflect not just the Flathead Valley but greater Montana, including the seasons, the lakes and rivers, the forest floor, the big sky.
“There is this vernacular about Montana architecture that if it’s not wood sides and green roofs then it’s not Montana, and I disagree with that,” Stein said. “The Montana landscape is about this incredible beauty no matter what season it is; it’s about both cold and warmth and how do you accommodate all that? We wanted to create a vision that would allow people to think about Montana life when they look at it.”
Patients and families are greeted at the main entrance with natural light and high ceilings adorned with white tile that trickles down into blue, a pattern meant to be indicative of a glacier melting. Glass fish of just about every color, created by local artist George Bland, are suspended from the ceiling over a river of blue flooring that runs throughout much of the first floor. Swaths of soft greens and blues line the walls of the pediatric and newborn halls and units, which are colors meant to promote calm and healing.
And for his second certainty, Stein knew he wanted the soul of the hospital to mirror what we feel when in the comfort of our own living spaces — a stress-free and far from institutional environment.
“It was important for us to create a place that was not just about sickness. It was meant to be a place that was for health and wellness and bringing people together,” Stein said. “We can’t do architecture, and we certainly can’t create hospitals without understanding emotion and we wanted to translate that beyond just walls and carpet and paint and ceilings.”
When walking through the new hospital, there are things both tangible and intangible that make the space feel as though it was created especially for children, which Stein and hospital officials say is an important distinction in health-care architecture.
“Unlike adult hospitals, kids have different needs and different conditions. They have family and guests who stay with them for long periods of time,” said Teresa Fisher, administrator of Montana Children’s and chief nursing executive at Kalispell Regional. “We wanted to make sure that the families feel like they are as close to home as possible.”
There are family rooms built for the purpose of long-term stays. They include washers and dryers, a kitchen, showers and other amenities. According to Rochelle Mertz, executive director of Montana Children’s, a good number of families will be traveling from outside of Flathead County and she said those with children in intensive-care units tend to need accommodations for anywhere from a couple of weeks to 100 days and possibly longer.
There are private sleeping and sitting quarters as well, which Mertz, who has had a grandchild in neonatal intensive care, said is nothing short of a necessity.
“We wanted an area where people could take a breath and have some peace and quiet. Lots of times families need somewhere to go for moments of privacy, to cry, and sometimes to make hard decisions. These allow for that,” Mertz said.
There is a designated area for what is known as Child Life. It’s a therapeutic room and playground where children can, with the guidance of a therapist, learn to cope with being in a hospital environment and are given moments of reprieve with offerings such as outdoor activities.
“It really gives a child a sense of normalcy even though they are here in the hospital,” said Matt Higgins, project manager for Montana Children’s.
The family rooms, resting spaces and therapeutic areas are only a few concepts that have made Montana Children’s an enviable facility. With the exception of organizing equipment, completing the landscaping and finishing minor cosmetics, the building is outfitted to begin serving its purpose for years to come. Namely, that purpose is to provide access to high-quality pediatric specialty care and significantly impact the health and well-being of children and their families.
According to hospital officials, Montana Children’s will be propped up professionally by more than 100 pediatric primary-care and family-medicine providers and more than 40 pediatric specialty providers. Services range from pediatric acute care, pediatric intensive care, neonatal intensive care and various outpatient services.
The phase nearing completion is the first of three planned for Montana Children’s. This initial portion, constructed to the tune of about $60 million, included the three-story building itself, which Stein said is one of the largest in the valley, and also the medical equipment and other furniture needed to fill the first floor.
In the coming years, Kalispell Regional officials say they will equip the other two floors based on whatever needs may arise in the future. They say the flexibility will allow them to continue to meet the pediatric needs of Montana for years to come.
Come June 29, Kalispell Regional will host a community open house prior to the grand opening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the new facility. Events planned for the day include a ribbon-cutting with former pediatric patients, music from a local children’s choir, food trucks, giveaways and a scavenger hunt. The theme is “Explore Montana Children’s.”
Stein said the day of celebration has been a long time coming.
“If we [the Montana Children’s team] stuck with it, we were going to have a day like we are having in a few weeks and not everyone has the guts to stick with those plans,” Stein said. “The team here never wavered from the idea that we are doing something exceptional.”
Reporter Kianna Gardner can be reached at 758-4439 or firstname.lastname@example.org