Nationwide Children's to spend $3.3 billion on new hospital tower, more programs, research

Max Filby
The Columbus Dispatch
Nationwide Children's Hospital is planning a new 12-story patient tower. The new tower will mirror an existing 750,000-square-foot tower and will be built right beside it on land the hospital is hoping to acquire that became available due to the ongoing Interstate 70/71 construction project. Nationwide Children's is in talks with the Ohio Department of Transportation and the city of Columbus to get the land, hospital leaders said.

Nationwide Children's Hospital will spend $3.3 billion over the next five years to build a 12-story inpatient tower and three other facilities, and it plans to expand new and existing programs.

The hospital plans to spend $2 billion on new buildings, including the new inpatient building that will mirror its existing 750,000-square-foot, 302-bed tower that's accessible from Parsons Avenue. The new building will be adjacent to the Interstate 70/71 highway project Downtown.

Construction will begin in about two years on the new tower and will be paid for by some combination of philanthropy, debt and investment revenue, said Tim Robinson, chief executive officer of Nationwide Children’s.

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"Our community has been very supportive ... We look at it holistically and say: 'We need to invest in the mission. How do we get that accomplished and calibrate it?" Robinson said.

The new facility means Nationwide Children's will likely increase the number of people it employs, though Robinson said that won't be clear until the building is closer to opening. The hospital already employs roughly 13,000 people, he said.

The new 12-story tower won't be finished until at least 2026, said Patty McClimon, senior vice president of strategies and facilities planning. The building is part of an update to Nationwide Children's five-year strategic plan and specific details of the new facility and other expansions are still being worked out, hospital leaders told The Dispatch.

Nationwide Children's is still working through the details of the new structure, including the land it will be built on. The hospital is in talks with the Ohio Department of Transportation and the city of Columbus to purchase the vacant land that popped up as a result of the I-70 project, McClimon said.

"Acquiring that property is going to get us the footprint that we want," McClimon said. "So that's what we're starting now and working through to get to the point of construction."

A new orthopedic and surgery center is planned along Livingston Avenue

As part of its updated five-year strategic plan, Nationwide Children's Hospital plans to spend $3.3 billion on new facilities, including a new 12-story inpatient tower, an orthopedics and surgery center, and two new research facilities.

The hospital also plans to build a new orthopedic and surgery center along Livingston Avenue. Construction has yet to begin on the center and Nationwide Children's plans to release renderings of the facility in the coming weeks.

The hospital has already begun constructing a parking garage in its campus' research area. Next door is a new conference center that opened during the pandemic, and Nationwide Children's will construct its fourth and fifth research buildings along Livingston as well, near a surface lot where a former Yellow Cab headquarters was once located.

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Although the property along Livingston Avenue owned by Nationwide Children's is filling up, the hospital still has land to expand on at some point. It owns a block of land to the west of Grant Avenue where Columbus City School's former Africentric School used to sit.

That 18-acre property that Nationwide Children's bought for $15 million in 2017 offers more space for the hospital's "future footprint," if and when it's needed, Robinson said.

"We're blessed relative to a lot of children's hospitals that are in urban settings that the only way they go is vertical, and through the wisdom of our community, we've been able to acquire property that allows us to move along the highway and not into the neighborhoods," Robinson said. "We've been very purposeful about that."

The projects Nationwide Children's is undertaking was welcomed by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther.

Ginther said he was grateful for the hospital's continued investment and said he thinks the expansion will "further solidify Nationwide Children's position as a leader in clinical research and quality care focused on the whole child, regardless of their ability to pay."

"Their investment will help ease the health disparities that exist in our community, and lead to new treatments that will improve the health and well-being of children in Columbus, across the nation and the world," Ginther said in a prepared statement.

Nationwide Children's will spend $1.3 billion to expand programs and research

At the same time, the hospital will expand a variety of programs and research to the tune of $1.3 billion over the next five years.

About a year and a half ago, the hospital hired a chief fetal surgeon to launch a fetal medicine program and establish partnerships with Dayton Children's hospital and area adult health systems.

Until now, Robinson said Nationwide Children's fetal medicine program largely consisted of diagnostic testing and "lower-end procedures." Fetal surgery was not offered and its addition, along with more research, will expand the hospital's focus and offer more effective care, Robinson said.

"There's proven distinction in outcomes if you're able to operate in vitro versus once the child is delivered," Robinson said.

Nationwide Children’s will also bolster its programs that try to help children where they are, such as in schools and neighborhoods the neighborhoods where they live.

The hospital will provide resources for school-based health services along with expanding efforts to reduce infant mortality and drive economic development in under-resourced neighborhoods.

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Nationwide Children's is also seeking to expand a program that puts families in stable homes they own.

The Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families program has already built or improved more than 400 properties in communities around the hospital, according to Nationwide Children's. The program, which is being expanded to the Linden neighborhood of Columbus, targets the issue of affordable housing in the city, started in the area south of the hospital in 2008.

In March 2020, the hospital opened its $159-million Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion. The nine-story, 386,000-square-foot pavilion came was built to address what experts see as a rising need in behavioral health care for children.

The rate of diagnoses for depression and anxiety in those ages 3 to 17 increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8.4% in 2012, according to a survey for the most recent year available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around 11% of children ages 8 to 11 and 22% of those 13 to 18 have a mental illness, according to Nationwide Children’s.

Moving forward, Nationwide Children's will try to expand research and develop better diagnostics, treatment and preventative strategies.

"We will continue to do even more to meet the significant needs of our region and to address this national crisis," Bruce Thorn, chief executive officer of Big Lots and a member of Nationwide Children’s board of directors said in a press release.

Genetic research and treatment are a priority for Nationwide Children's

When it comes to research, one expanding area is front and center at Nationwide Children's: genomics.

Genomic medicine is a field that uses genetic information to diagnose and treat hereditary disorders through a specialized personal approach such as gene therapy by modifying or repairing cells, according to the hospital. Gene therapy can be used to treat muscular dystrophy and doctors think it could lead to big breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer, according to the hospital.

The hospital opened its Steve and Cindy Rasmussen Institute for Genomic Medicine at the Abigail Wexner Research Institute in 2016. The Institute’s faculty are moving genome-based testing into the mainstream of pediatric diagnosis and treatment, making the results accessible and meaningful for patients and families.

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In 2020, Nationwide Children’s created Andelyn Biosciences, a for-profit subsidiary company, which creates gene therapy products and operates out of the Wexner Research Institute. The company will spend $250 million to build a new facility in Ohio State University's innovation district that will create 250 new jobs in the Columbus area.

Over the next five years, new investments, partnerships and infrastructure will allow the institute to develop novel genomics-enabled research, ​advance genomics-driven medicine and pursue further breakthroughs in the technology of computational genomics and informatics​, according to Nationwide Children's.

"We are going to dramatically expand our clinical and research efforts with outcomes that will transform the health of children worldwide," Kirt Walker, CEO of Nationwide insurance and vice chair of the hospital's board of directors said in a press release. "This plan incorporates every element of a child’s life — from housing and education to their individual genome.”