The origins of WVU Children’s Hospital date back to the old University Hospital, which had beds for children in different units. Babies were born on the fourth floor. Critically ill infants were admitted to the adult intensive care unit on the third floor, and general pediatrics occupied space on the sixth floor.
William Neal, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at WVU Children’s Hospital, didn’t plan to return to West Virginia after graduating from the WVU School of Medicine in 1966. He just wasn’t sure the opportunity for a budding physician would present itself. But, after completing military service and residency and fellowship training, he found himself missing the mountains and the people of West Virginia. In 1974, the Huntington native came home and joined the WVU faculty. The decision to return, he said, is one that he has never regretted.
Eleven years after his return, Dr. Neal became chair of the WVU Department of Pediatrics. At that time, the need for a new hospital was becoming increasingly more evident. Rather than try to fix the multitude of problems faced by the decades-old facility, the decision was made to build a new hospital.
The original plans for what would become Ruby Memorial Hospital did not have all the pediatric units on one floor, Neal said. There was a general pediatrics unit on one floor, obstetrics on another floor and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was to be located with the adult intensive care units. In order for the new facility to be a step forward, everything needed to be on one floor. To that end, he lobbied for the hospital-within-a-hospital design, and that’s how it ended up being built.
Mark Polak, M.D., chief of the WVU Section of Neonatology, remembers the first time he saw what is now WVU Children’s Hospital. After graduating from the WVU School of Medicine and completing his residency training, Dr. Polak went onto fellowship train in neonatal and perinatal medicine at the University of Florida. His first look at WVU Children’s Hospital came when he was interviewing for a job with Dr. Neal.
“At that time, the hospital was not quite done, so Dr. Neal took me on a tour of what was basically the skeleton of today’s WVU Children’s Hospital,” Polak said. “He was very proud.”
On July 19, 1988, Ruby Memorial Hospital officially opened. In less than three hours, 201 patients were moved from University Hospital to Ruby, including 11-day-old Jordan Oliver Fouch, the first WVU Children’s Hospital patient.
Neal and Polak recall moving day as one filled with excitement. “Ruby was a quantum leap in terms of improvement in facilities,” Neal said.
In the 25 years since moving into Ruby, many things at WVU Children’s Hospital have changed. Construction projects have increased its footprint over the years, the delivery of healthcare has improved and students in various health professions programs have completed their training. Many of those graduates stayed to care for children from the state and region and many, like Polak and Neal, eventually found their way back home.
“This is a great place to work. The people and the patients are great,” Polak said. “West Virginians are great people. You can’t beat them anywhere.”
Right now, WVU Children’s Hospital is in the midst of growing yet again. Plans to build a 10-story tower onto Ruby Memorial Hospital will allow WVU Children’s to expand both the NICU and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. In addition, WVU Children’s Hospital will have a dedicated entrance, lobby and elevator bank, making it easier for patients and visitors to access the sixth floor.
Cheryl Jones, R.N., director of WVU Children’s Hospital, said that no matter how many physical changes it undergoes, the mission of WVU Children’s Hospital will always remain the same.
“We’ve come a long way in 25 years, and we’ve got a bright future ahead of us,” she said. “The building may not look the way it did 25 years ago or even five years ago. But we remain committed to providing children from all over the state and region with the highest quality care possible.”
Photo caption: Jordan Oliver Fouch, was the first patient moved into WVU Children’s Hospital on July 19, 1988. He was 11-days-old at the time.
WVU Healthcare’s flagship hospital, Ruby Memorial, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It opened on July 19, 1988, after a generous donation from Morgantown philanthropist Hazel Ruby McQuain. The anniversary celebration will continue through the fall, marking a quarter century of care for tens of thousands of patients.
For more information: Angela Jones-Knopf, News Service Coordinator, 304-293-7087