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‘Austin’s Playroom’ Announced for WVU Medicine Children Outpatient Center in Wheeling | News, Sports, Jobs

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photo by: Derek Redd

Jessica Rine, associate vice president for foundations and community relations for WVU Medicine Wheeling and Reynolds Memorial hospitals, discusses the Austin’s Playroom that will be built at the upcoming WVU Medicine Children’s pediatric outpatient center at Wheeling Hospital while standing in the Austin’s Playroom at the hospital’s pediatric inpatient center.

WHEELING — Hospital visits can be stressful events, especially for children. WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital wants to alleviate some of that stress for patients and their families when the upcoming WVU Medicine Children’s Outpatient Center opens its doors.

The Mario Lemieux Foundation will help WVU Medicine in that mission. The foundation has chosen the new center for its 25th “Austin’s Playroom,” a place where patients can play and families can relax as they wait for their appointments. The foundation’s support also will be a big help in the process of the overall opening of the center.

“Austin’s Playroom” is named for Austin Lemeiux, the son of the Pittsburgh Penguins legend who was born profoundly premature in 1996 and spent 71 days in a neonatal intensive care unit.

While Mario and Nathalie Lemeiux cared for Austin, their daughters would join them, but would have nothing to engage with.

So the Lemieuxs set out to change that by building “Austin’s Playrooms” in hospitals throughout the region. WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital already has an Austin’s Playroom in its inpatient pediatric center. Hospital officials said Tuesday that such a playroom in the outpatient center would be essential.

Jessica Rine, associate vice president for foundations and community relations for WVU Medicine Wheeling and Reynolds Memorial hospitals, said this will be the first outpatient center to receive a playroom from the Lemieux Foundation.

“They’re going to come in, we’ll give them four walls and they’ll really put together a beautiful space for the kids,” Rine said. “I think this is the first step in kids not being afraid of healthcare. Sometimes it can be scary to go to the doctor, but when you come in, you can come in early enough to check out Austin’s Playroom and play and enjoy your time at the doctor’s office.

Rine was in Pittsburgh last week to accept the award and was able to meet Austin Lemieux, now a healthy 28-year-old.

She said that the Lemieux Foundation will take the reins on building the playroom from start to finish, shouldering all the costs. That’s a big deal for WVU Medicine Wheeling Hospital, which must raise half the estimated $11 million needed to open the new center. Rine said that the Lemieux Foundation’s work is worth about $250,000. A playroom already was in the plans for the new center, so the money earmarked for it can be put to use in another area.

When Lemieux Foundation representatives came to Wheeling to look at the area where the outpatient center would be built, Rine said she showed them a corner with two large windows that everyone thought would be the perfect place for an Austin’s Playroom. That’s where it will go, giving patients and families a view of the surrounding landscape.

“There’s something healing about having a window in a space where healthcare is being provided,” she said. “There’s hope there. You can see out those windows. That’s proven, so having those windows right there where kids and parents can be before they’re heading to their appointments is just a perfect match for them.”

The playroom isn’t the only desirable feature to the new center, Rine said. There will be an after-hours clinic which will allow parents to have their children seen without having to leave work. There will be separate well and sick entrances for patients. Parking will be more convenient, located on the same level as the entrances.

All this reinforces WVU Medicine’s commitment to the health of the Ohio Valley’s youth and their families, Rine said.

“We have a great team, a great staff,” she said. “The WVU Medicine Children’s brand is huge throughout the state. This gives kids the opportunity to be seen here in their backyard. It’s a convenience thing for parents, for them to be able to see specialists right here in our community.”

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