John R. Nickens

Inspired by his father’s role in hospital administration, John R. Nickens has spent his entire career in pediatrics. As the President and CEO of Children’s Hospital New Orleans explains, the chance to make a difference in young lives, as well as support families during a difficult time, creates a fulfilling work experience.

“At the end of the day, you are serving people at a vulnerable point in their life, when they are worried about their kid,” said Nickens. “We get to be their advocate, and maybe make their life improve a bit.”

Now, Nickens is eager to get the word out about some exciting renovations at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. Designed to help patients, families, and staff alike, these major changes transformed the hospital, making it easier than ever to provide quality care.

The hospital’s latest endeavor is all about creating a strong foundation to help kids now, as well as set them up for a healthier lifestyle in the future.

Taking place on about 15 acres in uptown New Orleans, the Campus Transformation Project impacts the hospital in three key ways. First, the design of the physical space aims to create a pleasant experience. Nickens likens it to a university setting, with high ceilings, plenty of natural light, gardens, and a great cafeteria. There’s also a nook designed for people who may have sensory issues, with a lowered ceiling and dim lights to promote feelings of safety.

Next, the project includes an investment in several noteworthy programs. Patterned after the top heart programs in the country, the new Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) includes redesigned surgical suites that help control the environment and prevent the spread of infection. With state-of-the-art technology and 28 private patient rooms, the new CICU offers care for patients and their families alike.

Lastly, the project invests in the people who use Children’s Hospital New Orleans, whether as patients, family members, or employees. The hospital currently offers housing, similar to an Airbnb, with several rooms that families from out of town can access. A 22-room Ronald McDonald house is also set to open soon. In addition to family housing, the hospital also includes a free parking garage with 600 spaces so families don’t have to worry about parking. A child life play area reinforces the importance of play for all children and helps create a sense of normalcy.

Nickens is also incredibly proud of the staff and counts the ability to recruit and retain talented professionals for the hospital as a huge success. The Children’s Hospital New Orleans team includes graduates from top programs in the country, including Stanford and Duke. None of this happens without physicians, nurses, and all the other incredible healthcare professionals, as Nickens explains.

In addition to all the other innovations with the Campus Transformation Project, Children’s Hospital recently launched the Trauma and Grief (TAG) Center as well. Designed to help children and adolescents who have experienced loss or other stresses, the Center can offer tremendous support to the city’s young people.

“Trauma and bereavement are predictors of future mental health,” said Nickens. Because these experiences can influence a person into their teenage years and well into adulthood, the therapists with TAG help children navigate their trauma with age-appropriate, effective treatments.

The TAG program is also available to children in other cities, including Houston, in an effort to make a difference in young lives. As Nickens explains, processing trauma in this way will be a big part of changing this generation. Because many children are still navigating the effects of the pandemic, and possibly coping with losses due to COVID-19, it’s a crucial time to help them face these challenges.

Outreach is another important aspect of the TAG Center. With the ThriveKids Program, healthcare professionals partner with local schools to offer mental and behavioral health services. The comprehensive program allows these health liaisons to meet children where they are, and work to build trust. In addition, the trained healthcare workers can help identify children who are victims of trauma. In cases of concern, the liaisons can connect the children with a social worker for additional help or check in with their parents. Available for many local schools, including all of Jefferson Parish, the program offers another avenue for care and support right in the classroom.

“It’s a new day,” said Nickens. “We’re setting the standard for care in New Orleans, in Louisiana, and along the Gulf Coast. With the TAG program, we are setting the standard for care in the United States.”

The recent innovations to Children’s Hospital New Orleans are all about serving and supporting New Orleans families, particularly those who may be facing a difficult time due to concerns about their children’s health. Families do not need to leave the city to get great care for their children.

“This building marks a moment,” said Nickens. “It’s a game-changer. We’ve built a world-class hospital for a world-class city.” 

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