New medical research & education building strengthens St. Pete’s Innovation District

The doll-like mannequin in the incubator was surprisingly life-like -- warm to the touch with a small chest that expanded and contracted with every breath. Mannequins like this one, programmed to mimic actual human responses, are a core feature at the new Research and Education Building at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. 

The new seven-story, 225,000-square-foot Research and Education Building in St. Petersburg represents a major milestone in the hospital’s vision of becoming a premier academic pediatric hospital for the Tampa Bay region and in Florida. 

At the grand opening of the building in late September, Paul Rothman, M.D., CEO of Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine, noted that “today we are writing a new chapter in Johns Hopkins Medicine history. This is a place for innovation and collaboration that will change the future of medicine.”

The hospital’s board of directors, as well as city and state leaders, hope that the building, a $95 million investment, will be an economic engine for the community. It’s definitely another building block for the emerging St. Petersburg Innovation District that also includes the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, the USF College of Marine Science, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and multiple marine-related institutions.

Center for medical simulation 

The new Research and Education Building showcases medical innovation on multiple levels. The Center for Medical Simulation, directed by Jen Arnold, M.D., is the perfect example. It’s a teaching facility that allows medical professionals to hone their skills and practice complex procedures on innovative, high-tech, simulation tools. It’s much more than a computer-simulated experience. The life-like mannequins offer a realistic experience that mirrors real-life situations. Staff perform a mock high-risk birth delivery at John Hopkins Children's Hospital.

Johns Hopkins All Children’s already had a simulation lab directed by Dr. Arnold, but the new one is significantly larger and more sophisticated. In addition to a dozen high-tech mannequins, there are 15 rooms set up to resemble a typical patient room, an operating room, intensive care unit, even an ambulance and a bedroom at home. An onsite shop repairs and maintains infant, pediatric and adult mannequins and other equipment in top shape.

The new hospital-based simulation center is part of a national trend in medical simulation for training and education. The University of South Florida’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, (CAMLS) already draws medical professionals from around the country for training at its headquarters in downtown Tampa.

Graduate medical education

Graduate medical education at Johns Hopkins All Children’s has also transitioned to the new Research and Education Building. 

The program includes a residency for physicians training to be pediatricians and post-residency fellowships for doctors who want advanced specialized education. Medical students also come to the hospital for short-term observation and training.  

The inaugural class of pediatric residents came in July 2014. Since then, the program’s reputation has grown considerably. “We have about 1,000 applicants a year for the 12 available spots,” says Akshata Marballi Hopkins, the interim pediatric residency program director. There are currently 36 residents at various levels of their training based at the hospital.

What’s different about Johns Hopkins All Children’s residency program, says Dr. Hopkins, is the “focus on mentoring and coaching rather than the traditional model of relying on residents for service to run the hospital.”  Residents also provide outreach care through an adolescent health program at several local high schools.

Focus on research

One of the highlights of the new building is an expanded 40,000-square-foot research center divided into five institutes focused on heart disease, cancer and blood disorders, neonatal medicine, neurosciences, and fundamental biomedical research.

Over the last year, fundamental biomedical research has ramped up significantly with the recruitment of six new scientists, including Timothy Osborne, Ph.D., who heads the team. The majority of the scientists, including Dr. Osborne, have relocated to Tampa Bay from Orlando’s Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute.

“We are all excited about coming here from Orlando and other parts of the country,” says Dr. Osborne. “We have had strong support and buy-in from Dr. Ellen and the hospital leadership right from the start.” 

Staff and guests explore the new 225,000 square foot facilities at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.The team’s research activities target “the basic mechanisms that give rise to childhood diseases and how to prevent them,” says Dr. Osborne. “We intend to meld basic and translational research, and hope to collaborate with Moffitt and USF to create a strong research corridor for this region.” 

Two new research centers -- the Johns Hopkins Center for Metabolic Origins of Disease and the Center for RNA Biology at Johns Hopkins All Children’s -- are expanding the team’s research opportunities.
Another component of the research program is a pediatric biorepository that can store up to 3 million “biospecimen” samples of blood, urine, and tissue to be used in future research. According to Johns Hopkins All Children’s, it is one of the only accredited pediatric biorepositories in the U.S. for collecting and storing specimens for research.   

The Peabody

The first floor of the building houses a much anticipated new restaurant that will be open to the public.

The 4,000-square-foot Peabody Restaurant, named after the George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins main campus in Baltimore, is a “sister” restaurant of Tampa’s popular Oxford Exchange across Kennedy Boulevard from the University of Tampa, a short walk west of downtown Tampa. The hospital’s version in St. Petersburg has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and wood paneling. It will serve breakfast, brunch, lunch and early dinner with a full-service dining room and full-service bar -- definitely not your typical hospital café.  

According to Sylvia Ameen, Johns Hopkins All Children’s VP for marketing communications and culture, about 300 clinicians, educators, researchers and support staff are now working in the new Research and Education Building, with an additional 100 jobs expected to be added over time.  

The new building “presents a strong economic development benefit for St. Petersburg,” says Ameen. “We’ll have the opportunity to recruit the best and brightest in the medical field to our community.”

For more information, visit the Johns Hopkins All Children's website.
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Read more articles by Janan Talafer.

Janan Talafer enjoys writing for a diverse group of clients, including print and online publications, nonprofit organizations and public relations agencies. One of the highlights of her writing career was flying with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron out of MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa FL for a feature about this elite military team. A journalism graduate of Bowling Green State University (OH), Janan’s early career was in health care marketing and public relations for hospitals in Connecticut and Tampa Bay. She is an avid gardener, loves East Coast swing dance and enjoys touring around St. Petersburg on the back of her husband’s scooter.