I write about country music. Mostly.

A new “hospital home” for Iowa’s sickest kids

After five years in the making, the new University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital recently opened in Iowa City. Towering at 164 feet, with 14 floors, the new children’s hospital is now the tallest building in Iowa City. It is the culmination of years of planning and the state’s gigantic financial undertaking that was brought to fruition through bonds, patient revenue and private gifts, including a $25 million contribution from the hospital’s namesake Jerre and Mary Joy Stead.


The story of the gorgeous $360 million facility and wonderful care that goes with it has made a big impact. Last year almost 70,000 children were cared for at the predecessor hospital.

Dan and I have been following the hospital’s launch with great interest as our daughter Hope spent nearly the first year of her life at the parent hospital 25 years ago. And although I believe people — doctors, nurses, social workers, therapists, administrators, clerks, housekeepers and other staff — are the most important component for any health care facility, the new building is something to behold.

It is hard not to be wowed.

The techno-rich patient rooms are loaded with state-of-the-art medical equipment and kid-friendly details. Hall windows fog at the touch of a screen if a patient or family wants privacy. Drew’s Lamp, in honor of a former patient, is a lighting display with seven colorized blocks. It is controlled by the patient and family to cast pretty hues in each room, serving as a whimsical distraction and point of interest. Another safety and courtesy feature is the electronic ID worn by each staff member. The ID tags signal the patient’s TV to flash a message so the patient or Mom and Dad know exactly who is entering the room and why.

Our friend Emily is one of those hospital moms. She is currently settled in the new hospital’s pediatric intensive care unit with her and her husband Logan’s baby Lambert, shown in the photo at the top of the post and at right. Lambert, who was born last August with congenital dwarfism and limited lung development due to that condition, spent 201 days in the old hospital. Emily and Logan took Lambert home for the first time just last month, with a tracheotomy and home ventilator to provide positive pressure to his lungs so they can properly oxygenate his blood. Unfortunately, Lambert’s respiratory status deteriorated last Friday and Emily and Logan had to take Lambert back to Iowa City. He’s now resting and on the mend, and hopefully, will be home again soon.


Emily says she felt a sense of calm after they arrived at the hospital last week. “We got into the room the other day and it didn’t take long for Lambert to settle in,” she said. “It is understandable he’d feel comfortable there because the hospital is his first home.”

Emily has noticed many differences in the new hospital rooms. Before, she explains, there was a pod on the wall at the head of Lambert’s crib where all the medical lines were connected. Consequently, the crib was fixed in place. Now, an overhead boom connects all Lambert’s medical lines and allows 360 degree access around him. That makes it easier to provide care and cuddles, says Emily. There’s also a smaller boom that holds a screen for TV and internet access. “It is like a giant iPad that you can position however you want,” Emily explains. Today Lambert enjoyed a Disney movie on the screen Emily positioned in the exact right spot. Emily and Logan also use Spotify and Pandora on the big screen to sooth and distract Lambert. “We put on the 90s country station and he goes to town,” Emily says.

The entire hospital is packed with family and kid-friendly features. The lobby has a concierge desk to assist families, plus the Kaleidoscope Gift Shop that looks like a Disney store. It features toys and educational products plus safety products like bike helmets, car seats and child safety gear for homes. There’s also a library, stage, cafe and gorgeous art to celebrate Iowa and children. The features are “fun and bright and beautiful” to help make kids feel they are in a less clinical place, Emily says.

My own family attended a community open house at the hospital in early November. Dan and I were particularly amazed by the the observation spaces on the 12th floor. One of those is the Press Box, a huge party room to allow patients and families a clear view of Kinnick Stadium where the Iowa Hawkeyes play football.  Whoever thought of that should win an award. What a great built-in thrill to catch the game day fun without leaving the hospital. Brilliant.


Hope takes in Kinnick Stadium from the 12th floor Press Box at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

I’m sure the Vista Room on the opposite side of the building will also be a loved spot for families. It gives a peaceful perspective, with fantastic views of Iowa City and Coralville, far away from treatment and medical routines.


Karen and Hope at the Vista Room

But what strikes me most about the new hospital is a sense of belonging and family-like pride in families like Emily’s and mine. The hospital produced a short video to recap move-in day. It captured that sentiment. One family described it as an “honor” to be among the first families cared for in the new facility. Emily reiterated that feeling.

“It sucks to be in the hospital, but it is cool Lambert gets to be one of the first kids cared for here,” Emily told me.

The sense of belonging to the hospital makes sense to me. When I served on a committee there years ago, I remember the term “hospital home” was tossed around as a concept to describe a place where kids and their families found care and support when they needed it most. Yes, that is a fitting description.

Like Lambert, our daughter’s first home was the hospital. It was also an important second home for Dan and me. Whenever we went back for appointments and countless re-admissions, we were treated like family. Many of our friends have also had kids stay there for long periods of time and know this deep feeling of connection. We would never wish for a family to need the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. But for those that do, I am so happy they have this wonderful, new “hospital home.”


img_4848Thanks to Emily L for talking with me and for taking the photos of Lambert that she shared for this post.

Learn more about country music lover and blogger Karen Bernick here. Please feel free to share this article or others. But please use photos with permission only – just email me with any requests. If you like this post, please consider following me here, liking my Facebook page Karen Loves Country or following me at Twitter. Thanks for reading! #UniversityOfIowa #UniversityofIowaSteadFamilyChildrensHospital #Iowa #KarenLovesCountry

4 Responses to “A new “hospital home” for Iowa’s sickest kids”

  1. Leann Graves

    Wonderful blog, Karen! It certainly is an amazing facility and will impact many families’ lives in the future.


    • Karen Bernick

      Thank you Leeann. And thank you for all your many kindnesses when we were at the hospital so long ago. I remember visits and food (an apple pie to be exact) from you while we were staying at Ronald McDonald and an open guest room at your house.



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