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‘It was awesome,’ local girl helps cut ribbon on new Children’s Pavilion at VCU

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RICHMOND,Va. — Brianna Burke was one of the youngest people at a ceremony outside a new facility of the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU on Wednesday – but the gregarious 10-year-old undoubtedly had one of the most important jobs.

Alongside Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao and other public officials, Brianna unabashedly cut the pink ribbon at the grand opening for the Children’s Pavilion at 1000 E. Broad St.

Brianna Burke, 10, holds the ribbon she helped cut at the Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU's Pavilion grand opening ceremony.

Brianna Burke, 10, holds the ribbon she helped cut at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Pavilion grand opening ceremony.

The $200 million, 15-story facility boasts 640,000 square feet, 83 exam rooms and 600 parking spaces. It will have more than 350 doctors, nurses and other experts specializing in the care of young patients. The pavilion will open to children and families on March 21.

“It was awesome,” Brianna said grinning after the ceremony. She especially likes the pavilion’s playful features, such as an interactive floor and kid-friendly lighting.

“When you’re in the waiting room, you can step on the fish and they’ll run away,” Brianna said. “And there are chandeliers you can bang on and they make music. And there’s an outside part, and lots of windows and really big comfy chairs in the infusion room.”

The Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU is a network of facilities, some located on Brook Road in North Richmond and others on the VCU Medical Center campus in downtown Richmond. The Children’s Pavilion, five years in the planning, is the newest part of that network. The facilities are part of VCU Hospitals, the teaching hospitals associated with the Medical Center.

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John Duval, the chief executive officer of VCU Hospitals, said the vision for the pavilion was informed by a changing health-care landscape. Experts saw that the demand for outpatient children’s health services has outpaced the need for inpatient care. Indeed, outpatient services make up 90 percent of all pediatric care.

The pavilion is divided into more than 10 clinical and diagnostic pods, each specializing in a different area of care. The facility consolidates a number of outpatient services – such as specialty clinics, surgery, radiology, dialysis, lab testing and infusions – under one roof.

“Why come to Virginia? Because we now have the best children’s outpatient facility in the United States of America,” McAuliffe said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “The connection between healthy children, a healthy workforce and a healthy economy cannot be overstated.”

VCU president Michael Rao speaks to Brianna Burke, who traveled from Hampton, Va. with her family.

VCU president Michael Rao speaks to Brianna Burke, who traveled from Hampton, Va. with her family.

VCU officials say the pavilion is the largest and most advanced outpatient facility in the region. It will provide comprehensive care for children with medical problems and more flexibility for parents like Nicole Houser, Brianna Burke’s mother. Houser and Brianna have been traveling to Richmond from their home in Hampton for the past two and a half years.

“We come to the hospital about once a month – sometimes a little more than that,” Brianna said. “Then I get my infusions, and I go to dermatology, and sometimes they check my heart.”

Houser said until now, Brianna’s appointments required a long day of travel in the car, then more commuting back and forth across the VCU Medical Center campus for various appointments. Houser said this is especially taxing for Brianna, who uses a wheelchair, and at times proved dangerous in poor weather or bad traffic.

“But my sisters always help me and play with me,” Brianna said. “Sometimes I play teacher because they say, ‘Brianna, can you teach me math?’ But now they have a waiting room where they can play while me and mommy go to the doctor.”

The Children’s Pavilion includes the Ronald McDonald House Sibling Center. It will accommodate the brothers and sisters of young patients – like Brianna’s 8-year-old twin sisters, who often take part in her daylong trips to Richmond.

Ribbon cutting

VCU officials said the pavilion will enhance the reputation of the university’s medical school and hospitals.

“It is part of the recognition that ours is a nationally premier medical center that’s on par with the best in the country,” Rao said. “But most importantly, it is a place that makes a profound difference in the lives of children and their families.”

Brianna Burke (bottom left), 10, poses with her mother, Nicole Houser (top left) after the CHoR Pavilion ribbon cutting ceremony.

Brianna Burke (bottom left), 10, poses with her mother, Nicole Houser (top left) after the CHoR Pavilion ribbon cutting ceremony.

Houser said her daughter has come a long way since coming to the Children’s Hospital of Richmond.

“I know Brianna’s medical condition is not by the textbook and her team’s collaborative efforts show that they’re dedicated to her,” Houser said. “(They) are much more than nurses, patient advocates and physicians – (they’re) a godsend and Brianna’s guardian angels.”

By Sarah King/Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.