RICHLAND -- A curving 15-foot tropical fish tank is the first thing that catches the eye when exiting the elevator onto the fifth floor of Kadlec Regional Medical Center's River Pavilion.
The tank, which includes a burnt orange clown fish darting in and out of jewel-toned coral, was a gift from hospital employees to the new Don & Lori Watts Pediatric Center, which opens on the fifth floor in November.
The $7.4 million center expands the hospital's capacity to treat children from 17 semi-private rooms to 20 private ones, each decorated with an underwater theme featuring a different sea creature.
Dr. Josh Weldin, director of pediatric hospitalists, said every part of the new pediatric unit is designed to be soothing and comforting for sick children and their families, who often are experiencing stress and fear over being in the hospital.
"It will feel pretty different to what the perception of being in the hospital is like," Weldin said. "It is built with children and families in mind."
The unit includes a waiting room with a fireplace and a special family room where a pediatric patient's parents, siblings and other relatives can gather for family time in the hospital and cook a meal, do laundry or just sit together and talk.
Each private room has a sofa that pulls out into a bed so parents can stay with their child in the hospital.
But what Weldin finds most exciting is the ability with the expanded space to offer a higher level of care to pediatric patients, including the addition of outpatient pediatric chemotherapy.
Weldin, who trained in Seattle, said Kadlec is working with Seattle Children's Hospital to provide some outpatient chemotherapy for children with leukemia, saving them from some of the travel to Seattle or Spokane they now must undergo.
Children with the most common form of leukemia undergo chemotherapy for about three years, making 30 to 50 trips per year for treatment, Weldin said.
By offering some outpatient chemotherapy for children locally, Weldin said families could be saved about two of the three years of travel.
Families still will have to travel to see a pediatric oncologist, he said.
Kelly Harper, maternal child services manager, said another service being added in the new unit is the presence of a child life specialist -- a person on staff whose job is to make children comfortable during their hospital stay by finding age-appropriate entertainment or showing nurses and parents how to hold children during painful procedures.
Future services could include a pediatric intensive care unit to mirror the neonatal intensive care unit on the second floor. Four rooms have been built as ICU rooms, although Kadlec has no current plans to operate a PICU, Harper said.
Hospital staff are giving tours of the new center to donors and the media over the next few days, and children will be invited in to trick or treat on Halloween.
The center opens Nov. 18.
w Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; email@example.com