Akron Children’s Mahoning Breaks Ground on ER Expansion

BOARDMAN, Ohio — Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley broke ground Wednesday on its $31 million emergency room expansion project.

The expansion of Building A, now named The Leonard J. Fisher Family building after its donor, Leonard J. “Lenny” Fisher, is expected to be completed in spring 2023. Fisher is president of Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream.

“We’re not just building an expansion of the emergency room, we’re actually tripling the size and creating a new facility,” said Paul Olivier, vice president of Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley.

Located at 6505 Market St., the current emergency room is 9,600 square feet. When the expansion project is complete, the ER will measure 34,700 square feet. It will include 23 treatment rooms, which is six more than there are currently, as well as two new treatment rooms for behavioral health needs, for a total of three. A second triage room will also be added.

Nine months ago, the emergency department saw 63 children daily on average. Now, that number has increased to more than 120 patients a day, though it was designed to see up to 80.

Over the years, that number has grown to as many as 200 during peak season.

There was a lull last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but now numbers are picking “straight back up,” Olivier said. “The need is here.

“It’s a huge sigh of relief the project is going,” Olivier said after the groundbreaking.

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Gallery images include renderings of the expansion, Joni Ehrhart and daughter Avery, and Paul Olivier.

Attending the event were Joni Ehrhart and her 5-year-old daughter, Avery. The family are “frequent fliers” of the emergency room at Akron Children’s, Ehrhart said to the 100 people attending the event.

Avery has a sister, Jordyn, who is 7, and big brother, Aiden, who is 10. Among the reasons the Ehrhart family has come to the hospital include Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), asthma, broken bones and concussions.

But it was a more recent trip that changed Avery’s life. In February, she was playing at a trampoline park when she hurt her back. 

After waiting for a few days, her back was still hurting. During a visit to Akron Children’s, the ER staff discovered Avery had two fractures in her lower back, along with a spinal defect.

“We’ll go once a year to make sure (Avery’s) growing properly,” Ehrhart said.

She expressed her gratitude of Avery’s treatment and diagnosis. “Now we can properly care for her,” she said.

Donating to the hospital was an easy decision, Handel’s Fisher told those gathered. Like the Ehrharts, Fisher and his family are no stranger when it comes to pediatric emergency services.

When his son was born in the early 1980s at the former Northside Hospital, it was found he had a defect with his digestive system. Fisher said his son stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit after an emergency surgery, which undoubtedly saved his life.

Handel’s raises money for Akron Children’s through area school districts. The school generating the most money gets an ice cream social, Fisher said. They also partner with local firefighters for boot drives, raising money for the hospital.

“It’s such a big part of the community,” Fisher said. “It’s for the kids. All the money stays here.”

What started as a light-hearted conversation with a peer from Akron Children’s turned into the large gift, Fisher said.

He asked in a joking manner, “What would it take for my name to be on a billboard?”

Fisher was told if he donated $1 million, he could have it, he said.

“I’ve been pretty fortunate in my life to be successful. I thought I’d like to donate to the hospital,” Fisher said.

The conversation turned serious, and Fisher thought about it, ultimately deciding he would do it.

“The people that work here are so dedicated,” Fisher said. “They love what they do.”

The Boardman campus is the only pediatric emergency room and hospital in the Mahoning Valley. Since the announcement of construction, Olivier and hospital officials and employees have been asked if the emergency department and other services will still be available over the course of the next year.

“We’ve been getting a lot of questions from the community about when it will be completed,” which is anticipated to be in the next 12 to 15 months, Olivier said. There will be no disruption for patients, he said.

“Throughout construction, patients will continue to be seen. The doors are always open. We won’t stop operations,” Olivier said. 

For anyone who would like to learn about donating to Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley, contact Luann Maynard, director of development at 330 746 9122.

Pictured: On hand for the groundbreaking were Paul Olivier, vice president of Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley; Joni Ehrhart and daughter Avery, a patient; Grace Wakulchik, president and CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital; Leonard J. “Lenny” Fisher, chairman of the board of Handel’s Homemade Ice Cream and donor; and Dr. Mary Costello, emergency department site director, Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.