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University of Chicago moves a hospital — and 145 patients — down the street

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Updated: March 25, 2013 6:55AM

Karen Perlmuter’s day began at 4 a.m. with the pinch of a needle.

By 7:15 a.m., the 52-year-old breast-cancer survivor who’s now battling leukemia was the first to be transferred into University of Chicago’s new, 10-story Medicine Center for Care and Discovery from the university’s old Bernard Mitchell Hospital less than a block away.

With a pink bandana covering her head, the mother of two was wheeled in by four and followed by medical staff.

It was an “uneventful” move for Perlmuter, who said she’s more excited to see her family later in the day and do some “retail therapy” by buying headwear.

She’ll be getting a bone-marrow transplant Thursday. And that’s the day she’s thinking about. But with the sun shining on her face, Perlmuter said she appreciates her new view, Washington Park. Her old view was of a parking garage, where she could see her husband park on the top floor.

The registered nurse was one of more than 100 patients being moved into the new facility off 57th Street. All hands on deck was the theme as the majority of doctors and nurses employed with the hospital volunteered their time to ensure the safest transfer of the patients, most of which are critically ill.

By 1:58 p.m., the last patient, no. 145, had arrived in a new room. The move took about seven hours — about two and half hours earlier than expected, hospital spokeswoman Lorna Wong said. The staff had prepared to move 200, but the number of patients had lowered throughout the week. The hospital’s first surgery is scheduled for Monday. But emergency surgeries will still be performed at Comer Children’s Hospital, as needed.

Lurie Children’s Hospital last June moved 126 patients into their new Streeterville hospital. But University of Chicago’s move was a bit easier. Patients were already transferred into their new beds at Mitchell, then wheeled into the new hospital. At Lurie, ambulances helped transfer patients from the old Lincoln Park hospital, about three miles away.

Still, staff were prepared for the worst case scenario; cardiac crash kits went along with each patient just in case.

New features of the center include a “hybrid room,” in which cardiologists and cardiac surgeons will be able to work within the same suite.

“We used to do cardiac surgery and cardiac catheterization in different places in the old building, in the O.R. and the catheterization lab,” Dr. Sameer Badlani, chief medical information officer said. “But if you think about it, many of these procedures are combining their times together. Cardiac surgeons and cardiologists will be collaborating and we built it in the same area in the same suite.”

Badlani said the new center features robotic surgery machines, which were so heavy they were starting to damage floors at Mitchell.

“The old building was built in 1960, and at the time, the machine did not exist,” he said.

He said the old building’s operating rooms will be renovated, but will most likely never see a surgery again. They’ll likely be turned into patient rooms someday.

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