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American Family Children's Hospital Turns 10

News & Events

American Family Children's Hospital Turns 10

Madison, Wisconsin - For most kids, there is something a little extra special that comes with turning 10. In August 2017, American Family Children's Hospital – a place that has played a key role in the lives of thousands of children - will join the 10-year-old birthday club.

Incredibly, a decade has passed since about 50 hospitalized kids were transported from the old University of Wisconsin Children's Hospital (located inside University Hospital) to a modern, state-of-the-art facility made possible through much persistence and an unbelievably generous amount of community support.

Quality pediatric care has always been a hallmark of UW Health but it wasn't very long ago that its children's hospital left something to be desired in terms of space and amenities. Prior to the 2007 opening of American Family Children's Hospital, UW's 61 pediatric inpatient rooms were private but cramped – about the size of a nice walk-in closet. Parents typically slept in reclining chairs or cots, while "special touch" amenities to help make life in the hospital a little easier were sparse.

Take a look back through 10 years of the American Family Children's Hospital
Click on the picture below to start our slideshow

American Family Children's Hospital celebrates its 10th birthday

American Family Provides Naming Gift

After some collaborative discussions, Madison-based American Family Insurance in 2003 provided the catalyst to turn what seemed like a distant hope into reality by announcing a $10 million naming gift to build a world-class children's hospital that would be separate from - but connected to - University Hospital in Madison. (To date, corporate, employee and agent gifts from American Family Insurance now exceed $20 million.)

"American Family's flagship gift was the watershed event for our capital campaign," says John Flad, a Madison business leader, philanthropist and former chair of the Children's Hospital's Advisory Board. "Once that pledge was announced, other community leaders, businesses and organizations realized what an impact this project would have on kids, and they wanted to be part of it."

After three years of construction and four days of open-houses, the doors opened on August 29, 2007. To paraphrase the oft-quoted line from "Field of Dreams," we built it and they came.

"You really can't overstate the impact this facility and its staff has had on pediatric specialty care in the region," says American Family Children's Hospital President Jeff Poltawsky. "It did not take long for patients, families and referring providers to sing the praises of a beautiful facility that matched our commitment to patient and family centered care, combining the latest technological advances with an aesthetic design that helps put children at ease."

Moving Right Along

Emma Wilk of Rothschild, Wis., was four years old when she was hospitalized at the old UW Children's Hospital 10 years ago.

A little girl with cystic fibrosis, Emma was one of about 50 children who were moved into a brand, spanking new American Family Children's Hospital on its first day caring for inpatients: August 29, 2007.

"Emma actually remembers being part of the move," says her mother, Jamie Goldsmith. "She thought it was pretty cool with the bigger rooms and the new playrooms."

Today, Emma is 14, tops the pyramid of the local water ski team and looks forward to starting high school in September 2017.

"She is really doing well and her lung function is great," says Jamie. "She truly impresses me with her positive attitude and zest for life."

(Check out pictures of Emma back in 2007 and today in the slideshow)

Large Growth in National Reputation

It also didn't take long before word about this incredible place began spreading widely. A huge breakthrough came in 2011 when U.S. News & World Report for the first time named six American Family Children's Hospital specialties to its list of Top 50 Children's Hospitals. Since then, American Family Children's Hospital has been ranked every year, despite being the smallest children's hospital in the nation to consistently rank in multiple specialties.

"Pediatric specialty care at UW has come a very long way in a very short time," says Ellen Wald, MD, Chair of Pediatrics at UW-Madison and physician-in-chief at American Family Children's Hospital. "In many ways, opening this hospital provided a new and beautiful face for many, very spectacular medical and surgical programs, which have been able to grow and flourish. We expanded in 2014 and in 2017, adding a pediatric imaging pavilion, a Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and a Universal Care Unit. We have built a thriving Pediatric Heart Program and substantially enhanced several specialties including Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and our Pediatric Hospitalist Program."

Investment Has Provided Large Payoff

Dennis P. Lund, MD, UW Health's pediatric surgeon-in-chief from 1999-2011, who aggressively championed the children's hospital project along with former UW Hospital and Clinics President and CEO Donna K. Sollenberger, says the value of having a world-class children's hospital in Madison is beyond question.

"Selling this project - both internally and externally - took a lot of work," says Dr. Lund, now Chief Medical Officer at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital - Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif. "I think the return on investment has clearly paid off for UW Health and the University, but most of all for the children of Wisconsin and their families."

Sollenberger, who helped raise part of the $41 million contributed by the community – more than half the project's cost – beams with pride when talking about its impact.

"Having spent 41 years in health care," she says, "American Family Children's Hospital is the highlight of my career." Currently Executive Vice President and CEO of UTMB Health System in Galveston, Texas, Sollenberger cherishes the emotional rewards that come with seeing very sick children ultimately heal and live normal, healthy lives.

"Our goal was to create a fun environment for children to enjoy that would also serve as a distraction when kids are hospitalized," she adds.

American Family Children's Hospital also has enabled UW Health to partner with a growing number of regional health systems who value the UW Health brand in pediatric specialty care. On any given day, for example, UW Health pediatric specialists and surgeons see children at Aurora clinics across southeastern Wisconsin, SwedishAmerican clinics in Rockford, Ill., Aspirus clinics in north central Wisconsin and elsewhere.

"This strong regional presence is a great illustration of The Wisconsin Idea," says Dr. Wald. "By bringing our expertise across the region, we save many families the trip to Madison unless their child should require surgery or more complex care."

By early 2018, American Family Children's Hospital will complete its second major expansion, boosting the number of beds to 111 – or nearly double the bed capacity of opening day 2007.

American Family Children's Hospital By The Numbers: 2007-2017

Total number of inpatient admissions 43,123
Total number of surgical procedures 48,079
Total number of outpatient visits 419,851
Number of states with patients treated at AFCH 49
Percentage of inpatients from Wisconsin 89%
Percentage of inpatients from Illinois 9%
Percentage of inpatients from other places 2%
Percentage of inpatients from outside South Central Wisconsin 54%
Number of car seats correctly installed for families 23,552
Number of bicycle helmets correctly fitted 36,800

Date Published: 08/09/2017