Daniel and Nancy O'Connell in front of a portrait of their son, John, which hands in the newly dedicated facility. (Photo by Joe Driscoll/St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center)
HARTFORD – It was the heartbreak of loving parents who lost their son to cancer that gave birth to the John T. O’Connell Tower, a 10-story, $184-million facility on the campus of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.
The 318,000-square-foot building that was dedicated Feb. 18 now bears the name of their son. The new structure doubles the size of the hospital’s emergency department; replaces older, smaller operating rooms with state-of-the-art facilities; and replaces patient rooms with single, private rooms.
"Given the economic times, this building is nothing short of a miracle," said Christopher M. Dadlez, president and chief executive officer, who offered his profound thanks to board members, benefactors, hospital staff and supporters.
The new facility was conceived in 2006 and had its groundbreaking only three years ago.
"We have designed this new tower to accommodate the very latest innovations in green construction, medical technology advancements and cutting-edge telecommunications," he said about the facility that he noted "is unmatched in its sophistication in this region."
Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, chairman of the board of directors, who blessed the new tower during the dedication ceremony, also expressed his gratitude for the "edifying generosity" of those who made the "massive undertaking" possible.
The new tower includes an expanded emergency department with 70 treatment areas and 13 sheltered ambulance bays; 19 new replacement operating rooms, including two "hybrid" ORs that combine conventional surgical technologies with medical imaging and communications; 72 replacement patient rooms that are private; six dedicated orthopedic operating rooms and 63 replacement inpatient orthopedic beds for the Connecticut Joint Replacement Institute (CJRI); and a new rooftop helipad for LIFE STAR helicopter landings.
But the heart of the dedication clearly centered on Daniel and Nancy O’Connell, whose son John was treated for cancer at St. Francis and died in 1996 at the age of 20. The retired South Glastonbury couple spearheaded the project by donating $5 million to St. Francis, the largest gift in the hospital’s 110-year history.
"It’s a bittersweet moment for us," said Mrs. O’Connell, as her eyes welled with tears. "But it’s also exciting to see this building and the tremendous boost it offers both to those who work here and to the community.
"We wanted to give back for the care John received here from everyone – the nursing staff, administration, patient care, food service, custodial staff … everyone in the hospital was just extraordinary in every way," she said.
"This is a good way to show our appreciation while preserving John’s memory," she said. "Our son would be extremely proud."
Daniel O’Connell, a retired senior human resources executive for United Technologies Corp., also expressed thanks during remarks at the dedication.
Sharing a touching memory, he recalled, "On the day before he died, John knew he was going to God, and Nancy made a special request of him." She told him that after years of taking care of him, "our family roles were now changing" and it was going to be his turn "to watch over us."
As a result, he said, his wife often asks John to intercede with special requests, "and John almost always helps to deliver what she asks for." With that in mind, he asked his son to bring "three petitions continually before God" – to ensure the loving care of patients at St. Francis, to strengthen those who work at the hospital and to help the hospital in meeting future difficulties as it fulfills its "Gospel mandate to heal the sick."
Mr. O’Connell is a board member of the hospital and of the St. Francis Foundation and St. Francis HealthCare Partners.
Dr. Knoll also shared fond memories of John O’Connell, lauding him as a "brilliant young man who spoke five languages and taught us how to handle adversity with dignity."
Sections of the emergency room will be opened or closed according to patient volume. Moreover, the department is trained and has physical capability of handling multiple victims from a major disaster. Plus, paramedics and emergency medical technicians will have their own dedicated room with eating facilities, phones, computers and television.
The third level houses 17 operating rooms, including four for cardiac surgery and one hybrid OR.
The fourth level for CJRI will include six dedicated orthopedic ORs, 22 pre- and post-operation areas, a 60-seat auditorium and a communication data integration system. Orthopedic inpatients will be cared for on the ninth level, where 33 private rooms will be supported by a post-surgery therapy room and in-room clinical computers.
Dubbed "a hospital within a hospital," the CJRI has performed over 7,800 joint replacement surgeries. Its orthopedic surgeons are fellowship-trained and nationally recognized as experts in the field of joint replacement.
The hospital has estimated that nationwide by 2030, total hip replacements will grow by 174 percent to 572,000 procedures a year and knee replacements will soar by 673 percent to 3.48 million surgeries.
The new tower will open in phases beginning this month. The facility is scheduled to be fully operational by June.
The architect for the project was TRO/Jung Brannen in Farmington, and the Turner Construction Co. in Milford was the construction manager.