Published Oct 1, 2008 9:00 AM
They assembled before daybreak, a healing army of 2,300 nurses, lifters, porters, therapists, ambulance drivers and campus volunteers. They came to move 335 medical, surgical and psychiatric patients. They came to make history.
It was a long-awaited day. It was hospital moving day, June 29, when UCLA bid farewell to the 53-year-old Center for the Health Sciences (CHS) and began life anew in the gleaming new Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
With a crescent moon illuminating the pre-dawn sky, Westwood Boulevard and nearby streets were closed to public traffic. The doors closed on the old ER and new doors opened in the sparkling, digital-era facility. Psychiatric patients were smoothly shuttled from CHS to the new Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, which shares the medical center site with Mattel Children's Hospital and the main hospital.
As the sun came up, the small army organized into two teams, the blue and the gold. They all wore T-shirts that identified their duties — "Lift," "Porter," "Receiver," "Computer Support" and "?" for "wayfinders" whose job was to point the way for others through unfamiliar hallways.
At 6 a.m., the teams convened in the cafeterias at each of the hospital sites for a "powwow" with hospital leaders. "Remember to enjoy yourself," said Dr. David Feinberg, CEO and interim associate vice chancellor of the UCLA Hospital System. "This is really, really extraordinary and we should all take a moment to enjoy what's happening."
At 7 a.m., with military precision, the move began. Patients at CHS, along with their medical equipment and personal belongings, were packed up, lifted into one of the 80 gurneys required for the move and delivered to ambulances, at a send-off rate of one patient every two minutes. The caravan of 30 emergency vehicles rolled along predetermined routes to Reagan, where ambulance doors were opened, gurneys gently lowered, patients transported through hallways, up elevators and into their new private rooms streaming with morning sunlight.
Simultaneously, an additional crew — the red team — moved critically ill patients, transplant patients and 22 neonatal intensive care infants who had to be delivered in special "transport isolettes" to keep their hypersensitive body temperatures stable.
Completion time had been set for 3 p.m., but at 12:40 p.m., a historic announcement over Reagan Hospital's public address system was met with loud cheers:
"The last patient has been moved in," said Dr. James Atkinson, senior medical director of clinical operations. "Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center is officially open. Welcome."
"I found it a very emotional experience to actually see the patients moved," said Dr. Gerald S. Levey, vice chancellor of medical sciences and dean of the Geffen School of Medicine, who played a pivotal role in the decade-long creation and construction of the new hospital, during a press conference that followed the move. "It's wonderful to finally see the new hospital filled with people."
"We're done," Atkinson said. "This building is alive. It's really a great feeling that finally we're home."