Metro-East News

New Shriners Hospital is leaner — and fun

The design of the new Shriners Hospital in St. Louis reflects the “high-tech, high-touch” philosophy.
The design of the new Shriners Hospital in St. Louis reflects the “high-tech, high-touch” philosophy. Shriners Hospital

The new Shriners Hospital in St. Louis will give kids something to smile about while they are receiving cutting-edge treatment for bone disorders.

Wave your arms in front of the interactive wall in the lobby to make pieces of scenes leap and swirl. Step on the circle on the floor and watch it light up and bubble. A balloon in a patient room is really a light fixture (but don’t pull the red string, use the switch to turn it on). Tired of the research regimen? Slip into the fun room to tackle your favorite video game on a big screen.

“We have created a high-tech, high-touch facility,” said John Gloss, hospital administrator, who led a tour of the $50 million, 90,000-square-foot building on Tuesday. His face was beaming with pride. “These kids come in with serious problems, and we want to help them and, at the same time, make sure they and their families have a good experience.”

Shriners provides mostly free care to its patients.

One of the largest contributors of both patients and funding for Shriners Hospital in the Ainad Temple in East St. Louis, one of five temples in Illinois and the seventh largest in the country with about 4,000 members, said Ray Rohr, a past potentate. Rohr’s main job now is holding clinics to find children who can benefit from the hospital’s care.

“The Ainad Shriners work tirelessly with all types of fundraisers to support Shriners hospitals,” said Rohr, of O’Fallon, who accompanied Gloss on the tour. “Even the Shriner bands you see in parades pledge a huge amount.” Shriners also drive patients to and from the hospital and volunteer their time inside.

The new hospital will open June 1, but visitors can attend an open house on Sunday. The Hospital, now at 4400 Clayton Ave., is leaving its 182,000-square-foot St. Louis County facility, which is being sold.

“We are a lot leaner and meaner,” Gloss said. “We have almost half the space but we have the same potential. Our buzz words are economy and efficiency.”

The administrative offices, for example, are contained in one small, cubicled section of the second floor. “We don’t have a food service here. We contract meals out to Children’s Hospital, which is close by,” Gloss said. Any CT or MRI (scans) are done at Children’s. “It’s about sharing resources.”

Making prosthetics used to take up a lot of room. Now, they use high-tech imaging to take measurements and send them to a Shriners hospital in Oregon to be made.

“Instead of 22 hospital making prosthetics, now there are 5,” Gloss said. “And we get them just as quickly.”

Here’s a look at some of the highlights of the three-story facility.

First floor: Outpatient services. Patients are greeted with a streamlined check-in and waiting area. There’s a snack bar, an interactive audio-visual wall and large TV monitors to help pass the time. The outpatient clinic has 18 treatment rooms, each with a computer screen on an expandable arm. Also, state-of-the-art X-ray equipment, private consultation areas and physical therapy equipment.

“It was designed to flow from one area to the next to make it easier for patients and their families to get the most out of each visit.”

Second floor: Inpatient Care and Surgery. There are six rooms (12 beds) for inpatients. They are painted in bright yellow and teal with kid-friendly images, and have lots of windows and great city views. Three operating rooms have the latest in surgical equipment. They are oversized to provide lots of room for medical students to observe and learn. Limited administrative offices make more room for medical staff and therapists. A large board room (about 50 participate in meetings) is multipurpose for educational programs.

Third floor: Research. The Center for Metabolic Bone Disease and Molecular Research investigates and treats more than 100 rare bone diseases. “The room and the equipment are a reseacher’s dream, allowing us to attract the very best,” Gloss said. A new Center of Research Excellence, in collaboration with Washington University School of Medicine, is looking into regenerative medicine, using a patient’s own stem cells to “edit out” diseases, and biomedical engineering.

Seven guest quarters, dedicated to housing patient’s families, can sleep up to four each. They accommodate patients in the research center and their families, many of whom travel across the country to see Shriners’ experts.

The last stop on the tour was at a large window on the third floor overlooking Interstate 64.

“About 70,000 cars a day pass by here,” Gloss said. “That’s by design — we want to be as visible as possible.”

Bunny Willson, of St. Peters, Mo., and two of her three children, all adopted from China, were on hand as patient ambassadors. All three have been helped by Shriners Hospital and are eager for the new one to open.

Hadley, 17, has a prosthetic arm (“although she doesn’t use it anymore,” Mom said); Andrew, 14, has a prosthetic leg; and Teagan, 5, was born with a club foot.

Andrew took a few turns jumping and flailing his arms in front of the interactive wall, making pieces of a projected puzzle dance along with him.

“This is really cool,” he said. “All you have to do is act crazy and it moves. Kids will love it.”

Bunny said they will miss the old hospital.

“It was, well, more homey. We always felt welcome and the kids were used to it.”

But she has high hopes for the new.

“The rooms are brighter and more colorful,” she said. “Kids won’t feel as scared.”

At a glance

What: Open house and tours

When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday

Where: New Shriners Hospital, 4400 Clayton Ave., St. Louis

Ceremony: 1 p.m

Opening of time capsule from old hospital: 3:30 p.m.

Information: 314-432-3600,