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Memorial University Medical Center breaks ground for new children's hospital

  • Ground is broken for the Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children's Hospital of Savannah. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)

Memorial University Medical Center officials on Friday broke ground on the Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah, capping a 24-year journey to provide the region’s only standalone children’s hospital.

“Today is all about the kids,” said Bill Lee, senior vice president of the children’s hospital.

The Children’s Hospital at Memorial provides care for approximately 70,000 children each year. More than 4,300 are inpatient admissions. The new facility will consolidate all pediatric inpatient units, the pediatric intensive care unit, a four-room surgical suite, pediatric ancillary services, a 24-hour pediatric emergency department and family support space.

Memorial Health Foundation officials in October announced a $5 million naming gift to the Children’s Hospital of Savannah campaign from Dwaine and Cynthia Willett, whose names will be placed on the hospital.

Addressing the Willetts’ contribution, Harry Haslam Jr., chairman of the Memorial Health board of directors, praised their efforts: “They wish to leave a legacy for the children of our community.”

He called the facility “an insurance policy no parent or grandparent can afford to be without.”

“Why do we do what we do?” he asked. “What I hear most often is they wish to give back to the community that made them successful,” Haslam said.

He said North Carolina-based Novant Health committed support to the project because of its mission of “personal excellence, teamwork, diversity, compassion and remarkable patient experience,” adding that “we are happy to have them as our partners and are appreciative of their support.”

Construction on the new hospital is expected to begin soon, and the project is scheduled to be complete in spring 2017. The new freestanding facility will be placed in what was previously the Rehabilitation Institute at Memorial University Medical Center.

The Memorial Health Foundation launched a five-year, $20 million “Kids Only” capital campaign, chaired by Jackie Rabinowitz, for the children’s hospital in February 2014. The campaign has raised more than $16 million so far. The Willetts’ contribution marks the largest single gift to the campaign.

The project is one of those identified in the pending strategic partnership agreement with Novant Health that is expected to infuse $295 million over the first 10 years of the partnership.

Novant pledged $15 million as its commitment to the children hospital.

The Willetts, for their part, have been loyal supporters of Memorial’s pediatric programs for many years.

Cynthia Willett has been involved in the Children’s Hospital Charter Circle (for pediatric neurosurgery) and in raising funds for the “Kids Only” capital campaign.

Dwaine Willett, appearing with his wife, told the gathering Friday that, “The dream of a children’s hospital in Savannah now becomes a reality.”

He said the center will provide cures “for decades in the future. ... Let’s not use this event as a reason to stop donating to the hospital.”

“This is an incredible day,” said Maggie Gill, Memorial’s president/CEO.

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