Baby-saving Midwest Fetal Care Center becomes a showplace of medical tech and design

Tess Jentink is the practice manager at the new Midwest Fetal Care Center, which specializes in high-risk, complex pregnancies.

Children’s Minnesota and Allina Health left an unenclosed void on the ground floor of the Mother Baby Center in Minneapolis when it opened five years ago.

Then in 2016, that void was transformed into an unusual medical space — the Michael and Ann Ciresi Midwest Fetal Care Center, a joint program for Allina, Children’s and the Minnesota Perinatal Physicians practice group, and hailed as the first advanced fetal care center in the Upper Midwest and one of only a few in the country.

Today, the space illustrates powerful trends in the medical-office industry, including the use of interior design to enhance patient experiences and spur closer collaboration between medical teams. Its doctors and designer, the Minneapolis office of international architecture firm HDR, are holding it up as a prime example of the “clinic of the future.”


The center specializes in care for high-risk pregnancies and is pioneering new procedures such as open fetal surgery, in which the fetus is exposed in the womb and partly removed to allow for corrective surgery.


Even before its move from its cramped former quarters at Children’s Hospital, the center was recognized as one of the top programs in the country for outcomes of surgical corrections of fetal anomalies.


The process of designing and building out the new space was meant to address both medical and architectural goals, its medical leaders told members of the International Interior Design Association professional group during a tour of the facility this week.


“When we first began thinking about designing this center, we were not only we were looking at the geography and the brick and mortar of it, but also figuring out how to tie together all the programs at Children’s and Abbott Northwestern addressing maternal care,” said Dr. William Wagner, president of Minnesota Perinatal Physicians. “When you take a look at it now, you can clearly see how we’ll be able to address those needs through the 21st century.”


Dr. Brad Feltis, the center’s surgical director, added that because it’s one of only a handful of advanced fetal-care clinics in North America, everything about its design was meant to reflect innovation in the field.


“Our care model is the only one of its kind, so technological advancement and sophistication was a priority,” he said. “For instance, if you have a child with spina bifida, our care model is, ‘You come through this lobby, and now our world revolves around you.’


“We had to design this clinic to reflect that. Just today, we had maternal fetal specialists, pediatric surgeons, pediatric neurosurgeons, geneticists, neonatologists … all of them serving families with complex needs right here, rather than sending the patient around to see all these different specialists, as would have been necessary previously. It’s much more efficient, and really resonates with our patients.”


This patient-centric care model meant the center’s design emphasis had to be not only technological sophistication, such as its state-of-the art teleconference room allowing real-time communication with operating room teams as well as with fetal-care experts from around the world. It also needed to focus on making mothers facing tough pregnancies and their families feel comfortable, said Julie Robertson of HDR, an interior design specialist who was a leader on the project.


“It’s not just all examination rooms here,” she said. “We’ve also included consultation rooms, which aren’t so clinical and allow for a welcoming and embracing environment for patients and their families to talk to their doctors.”


Another patient-friendly design feature, Robertson added, is the big-screen ultrasound exam room, in which expectant mothers and families can watch the scans as the technicians conduct them.


Don Jacobson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. He is the former editor of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Real Estate Journal.

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