AdventHealth Carrollwood is creating a better experience for its youngest emergency patients

Parents know the worry that comes with having a sick kid. But when a child ends up in the emergency room, that worry can quickly ratchet up to panic and it can be downright terrifying for the child.

Child emergencies are going to happen. The question: How can the experience be less scary and more comfortable? Enter the AdventHealth Carrollwood Emergency Department’s private pediatric rooms and waiting area.

Funded by donations to the AdventHealth Carrollwood Foundation, the child-friendly rooms feature colorful under-the-sea and jungle-themed murals, ambient  lighting and soothing music. “The playfulness of the rooms helps kids relax and feel less anxious,” says physician Jeremy Kirtz, AdventHealth Carrollwood Emergency Department medical director. “Coming into the ER for a kid is really scary. If we can make it a more pleasant experience, it’s better for everyone: the child, the parent and the provider.”

Waiting room area

Fundraising for the rooms was spearheaded by Jeff Gigante, AdventHealth Carrollwood Foundation board chair and local restaurateur. “The emergency room sees around 13,000 kids a year. Just imagine these kids going through a sterile, cold, noninviting space—how terrifying that is,” Gigante says. “As a board, we really wanted to create colorful, fun spaces with themes that kids love.”

With those goals in mind, Gigante brought the project to local artist Jason Hulfish. The men have been friends since high school (both attended Northeast High School in St. Petersburg) and both have a long history of philanthropic endeavors. Hulfish has also made a name for himself on cable and network TV shows, including Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Treehouse Masters and Bar Rescue.

“When Jeff brought this project to me, I loved the idea of what they wanted to do,” Hulfish says. “I was happy to donate my time. It was a big project that was forecasted out over two years, and I’m 100 percent happy with how it turned out.”   

Hulfish began with a digital rendering of the room and then began designing the murals. He also custom-designed the characters, ensuring they were welcoming and not scary. Throughout the process, he and his team constantly thought about how the kids would interact with the rooms. “We tried to think of how the kids would act in the rooms,” he says. “The materials had to be durable and nontoxic, because we assumed the kids would want to touch everything.”

Main examination room

A final touch was a treasure chest in the waiting area stocked with toys, a suggestion from Gigante. “I was a handful when I was a kid, but there was a restaurant on the beach that had a huge treasure chest and if I was good, I got to pick a toy. I was on my best behavior when we went there,” he laughs. “When kids come into the waiting area they see the chest and get really excited. It builds an incentive to be a good little patient and be strong, and look at their stay in a different way.”

The foundation initially stocked the treasure chest, but Gigante is hopeful a local business will sponsor it or one of the rooms. “What a great way to align your brand with such a positive message,” he says. “You’re providing a safe haven, where kids can have less disruption and more joy when they’re going through something traumatic that could imprint on their life.”

For sponsorship opportunities contact: AdventHealth Carrollwood Foundation Executive Director

Tony LaForgia, [email protected] or 813-957-7224


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