Report from new SVP of Campus Operations, Jose Fernandez
By JAMES DOWD
When he joined St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the summer of 2021, Jose Fernandez understood that his foreseeable future would require extraordinary attention to detail and keen juggling skills. Stepping into a newly created role as senior vice president of campus operations, Fernandez was charged with overseeing the design, construction and facilities departments that are in the midst of nearly $2 billion in building and expansion projects.
In addition, Fernandez manages the organization’s food service, biomedical engineering and environmental services. And he’s playing an integral role in the major expansion of the campus that’s part of the St. Jude strategic plan for 2022-27.
As he nears his first anniversary with St. Jude, Fernandez is excited about the ongoing building projects that are transforming the organization’s campus as well as the face of downtown Memphis.
“We’re already tweaking our strategic plans to accommodate further growth and technological advances,” Fernandez said. “There’s a lot going on at St. Jude with projects that we have to focus on day-to-day, but we’re also continually looking forward and preparing for the future.”
Among several key projects that are nearing completion, Family Commons is scheduled to open this fall. Following a brief grand opening period during which media and other guests will be allowed to tour the site, the innovative space will be closed to outsiders and available as a recuperative space for patients and their families. Family Commons will offer a place to take a break from medical procedures and staff and provide a creative environment that allows patients to recharge.
Family Commons has been made possible in part by a $50 million donation by AbbVie, a research-based global biopharmaceutical company.
Highlights at Family Commons include resting nooks where patients and family members can reserve rooms to relax or sleep, along with art, music and maker spaces where young people can express their creative abilities. There will also be a space for parents to gather and share their stories, and a thoughtfully designed playground that is accessible for those undergoing cancer treatments or with mobility restrictions.
The area reflects input from current and former patients and parents about the kind of mini-getaway that will provide the best environment possible.
“This will be a magical place for our patients and their families, with beautiful colors and oversized ladybugs and a relaxed, fun atmosphere that allows them to get away from the reality of medical staff and treatments for a while,” Fernandez said. “I’m excited about the possibilities of this vision. Marlo Thomas has been intimately involved in this project and we all want this to be a space of love.”
Set to open in the spring of 2023 is Domino’s Village, funded primarily by a 10-year, $100 million pledge by Domino’s.
The six-story complex will incorporate nearly 300,000 square feet and feature outdoor green spaces and an underground parking garage. Families will be able to utilize the building’s 140 units for short- or long-term stays while their children are undergoing treatments. The structure will include one-bedroom hotel suites, as well as apartments that offer two or three bedrooms and provide a home-like environment.
“A diagnosis of pediatric cancer or other life-threatening diseases affects the entire family, and treatments can take months or even years,” said James R. Downing, MD, St. Jude president and chief executive officer. “We asked patients and their families to tell us what would make their experience the best possible while staying at St. Jude. Their thoughts and ideas are reflected in the planning and design of this new residence.”
Another component of the St. Jude strategic plan is an outpatient clinical building and a clinical office building that will break ground this summer. Originally designed at 600,000 square feet, the project has increased the footprint by 100,000 square feet to accommodate growth trends.
“This is necessary to address the ongoing expansion of our organization. Originally, we anticipated adding 1,400 new staffers and now that’s grown to 2,300,” Fernandez said. “We are also taking a more sophisticated approach to building design and how environment can facilitate healing as we strive to meet the needs of our patients, their families and our employees.”
Rather than traditional interior, closed off waiting rooms, the new outpatient building will feature waiting rooms with glass panels that offer outdoor viewing. The state-of-the-art clinic will contain flex exam rooms and allow St. Jude to see more patients than ever before.
And the proximity of patient treatment, healing spaces and research facilities ensures that the organization’s mission is always top of mind.
“One of the most innovative things about St. Jude is that the compactness of our campus means you can pretty much get from one point to another fairly quickly,” Fernandez said. “We’re intentional about creating this sense of community where people bump into each other in the hallways and discuss ideas or new research or treatment options. We want them to be as close together as possible to share with one another and come up with great ways to continue to do the amazing things we do.”