It’s early Saturday morning in the neonatal intensive care unit, normally a busy time in the round-the-clock care of premature babies. But the lights are off and the staff is gone, leaving medical director Dr. Stephen Butler as the last man standing at the Sutter Memorial Hospital NICU.
At one minute after midnight on Saturday, Aug. 8, Sutter Memorial — birthplace of 348,089 babies since 1937 — officially closed. At the same time, labor and delivery opened at Sutter’s new Anderson Lucchetti Women’s and Children’s Center. But that official closure didn’t stop babies from coming. The last delivery at Sutter Memorial occurred at 1:46 a.m., less than two hours before the first delivery was recorded at the new hospital at 3:22 a.m.
Shortly after 7 a.m., the NICU was left with little more than a hand-drawn portrait to honor the unit’s founder, Dr. Andrew Wertz. The isolettes and cribs filled with preemies had been transported, one by one, to the new midtown hospital, just two miles away.
But for the staff, it was difficult to leave the venerable hospital at 5151 F Street.
“There’s a little bit of a grieving process that comes with leaving an old hospital,” says Sue Sherman, Sutter’s assistant administrator of quality and safety.
On Saturday morning, employees walked the halls to read goodbye messages. Nurse Vicki Barber wrote, “I was born here, this was my first job as a nurse. I’ve been here 37 yrs. I will miss this place.”
Between midnight and 5:30 p.m., Sutter moved 161 patients, each transported in an advanced, life-support ambulance staffed with at least one registered nurse. Another 35 patients were discharged and went home from Sutter Memorial.
According to Sherman, “This has been a move that’s been planned for many years, well thought-out and well organized.”
Extensive preparation included staff training, mock drills, contingency planning and the development of a tracking system to monitor the movement of each patient. To prepare for move day Sutter created two teams with clearly defined roles, responsibilities and routes. The two teams used a rotating fleet of 14 ambulances with a patient moving every six to 10 minutes.
At midnight, one team began moving babies and new mothers out of Sutter Memorial as the other started transporting preemies from the NICU.
Three of the tiny patients were the triplet daughters of Wendy and Todd Bradley, who confessed they got very little sleep on the night of the move. The girls — Ally, Carly and Sydney — were born on July 23, at 34 weeks gestation. Their mother spent a total of 25 days in Sutter General and had just been released three days before the move.
“It was so nice to come in here and see the difference,” says Wendy. As she settles into a chair to give Carly a bottle, she rocks slightly and says with a smile, “These new chairs are so comfortable.”
About eight hours into Sutter’s move, labor and delivery was fully transitioned to the new hospital, and the teams began transferring patients from pediatric intensive care.
“We will be working simultaneously until the last patient leaves,” Sherman says. “Our priority is our patients, their safety and their privacy.”
An $812 million expansion of Sutter Medical Center includes the new, 242-bed Anderson Lucchetti Women’s and Children’s Center at 2825 Capitol Avenue, which connects across L Street to the 281-bed Ose Adams Medical Pavilion. The multi-year project to consolidate all Sutter hospital services in Sacramento on one medical campus also involved the construction of Sutter Capitol Pavilion and the remodeling of Buhler Speciality Pavilion.
Following the move, the old hospital — long a fixture in East Sacramento — is expected to be redeveloped into a residential area called Sutter Park Neighborhood. But Sutter’s legacy will continue on Capitol Avenue.
“I think we’re going to be pretty busy for the first 30 days in our new facility,” says Sherman. “We all plan on being here. Then, come September, I think we’ll be celebrating.”
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