Proudly dressed in an American flag T-shirt, head held high, Randy Clukey rolled his wheelchair into the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown early this morning and raised his right fist in triumph.
Clukey was celebrating his status as the first patient of more than 100 being transported to the hospital’s glistening $225 million waterfront building today as part of an intensively planned operation.
The moment was also a personal milestone: Just weeks earlier, Clukey was barely able to move his arm at all, much less lift it over his head. A snowmobile accident in early February left him with eight broken ribs and a punctured lung; a subsequent stroke left the 53-year-old builder and avid outdoorsman from Maine with significant muscle weakness in the right side of his body.
Ever the competitive athlete—doctors once had to confiscate an unsanctioned barbell he tried to sneak in and use to work out—Clukey waged a campaign among the hospital’s staff to ensure he would be the first in.
“I’ve been asking for three weeks to be the first one,” he said with a wry smile. “I thought it’d be interesting to be part of the history of the place.”
Spaulding administrators said they left little to chance when it came to planning the institution’s historic move.
“Everyone knows their mission,” said project coordinator Kevin Love, who worked for months and drew on his experience as an Army reservist who served two tours in Iraq to conceive of a comprehensive plan. “At the end of the day, if all our patients are safe and comfortable in their beds, we’ve succeeded.”
Staff members wore color-coded shirts to indicate their roles, with greeters swarming each arriving patient, checking their vitals, and hustling them off to the appropriate floor. A conference room on the ground floor of the new Charlestown building served as mission control, with a projector showing the status of each patient in real time.
The state-of-the-art facility, built starting in 2010 after a recession-related delay, is a significant upgrade over the Spaulding’s Nashua Street building, which opened in 1970 and was originally intended to be a nursing home.
“The rooms were small, the bathrooms weren’t accessible, the hallways were narrow, the ceilings were low—It was basically a pretty crummy facility,” said David Storto, president of Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. “It’s remarkable that Spaulding achieved all it did and patients have been as satisfied as they have been.”
The new hospital, built on the site of the former Charlestown Navy Yard, is designed throughout to make life easier for patients with a variety of disabilities. The facility includes thoughtful touches like lower counters at nurses stations so patients in wheelchairs don’t have to strain, private rooms for each patient that better accommodate visiting family members, and evenly spaced rectangles on the floor that let patients measure how far they can walk.
“Traditionally, rehab has always been relegated to whatever rundown space existed in the corner of the hospital,” Storto said. “I have wanted this [building] to be a bold statement for the rehab field, for people with disabilities and their families.”
Patients and doctors at Spaulding praised their new digs, noting that the environment is an important factor during long rehabilitation stays meant to improve patients’ overall quality of life.
“You can’t beat that sunrise,” Clukey said, gazing out a window overlooking Boston Harbor. “And it’s much nicer having your own bathroom.”