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Milwaukee Regional Medical Center reaches out to patients, employees as roads around it are rebuilt

Travel around the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center is becoming more complicated amid Zoo Interchange work.

Travel around the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center is becoming more complicated amid Zoo Interchange work. Photo By Jon Olson

April 10, 2013

Roads in upheaval, stop-and-go traffic and nerve-jangling queues have become a way of life in Wauwatosa, and it's going to get worse as key intersections are shut down and ramps to Highway 45 are closed.

Right in the middle of it all is the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, with half a dozen institutions employing 14,000 people and serving an army of patients and visitors daily.

Froedtert Hospital and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin together treat hundreds of thousands of patients a year, and the population of the campus is "like having a Brewers game every day," said Eugene Gilchrist, the medical center's executive director.

But Gilchrist hopes it's not like Brewers post-game traffic every day. The frustration that accompanies longer drive times for working people is one thing, but access to the medical center has much higher stakes, involving in some cases nothing less than lives.

Ambulance, patient, employee and police and fire department access all pose challenges as roads leading to and from the medical center are rebuilt.

Working with DOT

"The DOT is really good with that they call customer-sensitive solutions," Gilchrist said, referring to the state Department of Transportation. The DOT has a new ramp system linking I-45 and Wisconsin Avenue to keep the interstate connected to the medical center as the Watertown Plank junction is rebuilt next year.

The department also has worked closely with the medical center to identify routes to and from the hospitals in all directions as the construction project continues.

"For every construction project there is a weekly progress meeting," said Michael Burns, construction project manager for the DOT. The projects related to the Zoo Interchange are currently the Greenfield Avenue bridge over Interstate 894, the continuing work on Mayfair Road as it nears Bluemound Road, and Glenview Boulevard.

The intersection of Bluemound and Mayfair roads will be shut down for 10 days or so in late July, and Watertown Plank and Mayfair will close in early August. And, for most of 2014, access to I-45 from Watertown Plank will be cut off.

Burns said routes to the medical center will be available in every direction during the construction. East-west routes to and from the medical center would include Bluemound and Greenfield roads - when they are finished and Watertown Plank is blocked - and North Avenue. Glenview/84th Street will serve for north-south travel and emergency response while Mayfair Road is rebuilt.

"We're going to take whatever route we need to," Gilchrist said. Flight for Life helicopters will be used when needed for patient delivery and to move major organs for transplant, as the organs remain viable for a short time only.

Reaching the institutions

But it is the medical center that is taking charge of communicating with the constituents of the campus.

"We are planning to communicate with our customers about the Zoo Interchange construction project at every opportunity we have," said Julie Timm, of the medical center, whose title is communications director for the zoo project. Her job is outreach to the DOT, and communicating with the six entities that make up the medical center: Froedtert Hospital, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, Curative Care Network, BloodCenter of Wisconsin, Medical College of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division.

The medical center has set up a number of committees that bring institutional representatives together to address communications, emergency services, human resources, information technology, patient access, research, medical students, utilities and websites, along with a working group. Most of these meet biweekly, and about 60 people are involved, including representatives from We Energies, Wisconsin Lutheran College, the Ronald McDonald House, the Research Park, Mayor Kathy Ehley, City Administrator Jim Archambo, the Tosa Fire Department and the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office.

The emergency services group has been meeting since about August, said Mike Thiel, chairman of the committee and director of security for Children's Hospital. His role includes emergency management.

Thiel said about 140 ambulance services bring patients in, from as far away as Fond du Lac and Kenosha. This means hundreds of drivers in separate vehicles have to be kept up-to-date about hospital access. To facilitate this, the rigs have been equipped with a computer-based system so that "even on the spur of the moment, let's say, the detour route is now closed because we've had a truck accident that has fully closed off that, we can, in real time … get that information instantly into the rig of that ambulance."

Patient communication

Perhaps most important to the medical center is keeping patients informed. Timm said reaching out to patients means enhancing the hospitals' current communications with information about the project and detours - in mailed reminders of appointments, telephone calls, conversations with clinic personnel and using My Chart, an online system that allows patients to access their medical histories. The center also has a hotline that offers detailed, updated access information at (800) 966-0003.

Updates and a map are available at http://projects.511wi.gov/web/zoo-interchange-project.

Being proactive as a patient is perhaps the most important strategy. A group of cardiac patients, for example, took it upon themselves to visit the campus and get information about how they would get where they need to go, Timm said.

In another initiative, she said, some institutions are discouraging staff meetings at peak hours. The idea is to "stretch the working day," Timm said.

"Employees are pretty engaged about it," she said.

Rideshare programs within the individual institutions have been encouraged, she said. Timm provides an update based on DOT information to employees every Friday, and other updates to those who want them through the twitter feed @travelMRMC.

A confusing layout

For some visitors, the medical center is a confusing place to visit even when there is not construction.

The center in recent years has gotten better at "wayfinding," with 87th Street on the east, and 92nd on the west clearly marked, but within the complex, having directions in advance are important.

"Each organization came out here, encouraged by the county, and they've operated heretofore with a high degree of independence," Gilchrist said.

"These are circumstances that we haven't encountered as a campus before," said Judi Widen, corporate communications manager for Children's, "so we're making sure that we're working together very efficiently and very effectively."

While the campus entities have always worked together, she said, "this one is kind of escalating that need for us to be great partners."

The construction project has turned into a "a great sharing opportunity," Timm said.

"If there's any message we want to get out there it's that this is a good thing for us," Gilchrist said. He's looking forward to roads "built for traffic patterns today."

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