It has become a tradition in only a short time: At the end of the first quarter of every University of Iowa Hawkeyes home football game, fans, staff and players and coaches from both teams all turn to the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital that towers over Kinnick Stadium and wave to the hospital’s top floor.
There, young patients and their families regularly assemble to watch the games in a glass-enshrouded space called the Press Box Café. The mass greeting from the stadium, known as the Iowa Wave, started last fall following the opening of the new hospital earlier in the year, and has been featured prominently on telecasts of Iowa football games, including a national telecast on ESPN.
The Press Box Café opens only for the football games and other special events and has its own basic food prep kitchen area. It hosts Friday movie nights, music parties, cooking activities for groups of young patients and tailgate events for home games and viewing parties for away games.
It also serves as a staff development and in-services area when not hosting patient-centered activities. In all, the space is reserved about 80 percent of the time, says Kathy Whiteside, senior specialist with the hospital’s Child Life unit. “It’s very, very busy,” she says.
The food prep area is equipped with a pair of Turbo Chef ovens to produce hot items, but the menu remains fairly simple most of the time.
“We don’t do a lot of fancy stuff up there because it’s very close to our main production area,” offers Doug Robertson, interim director of the department of food & nutrition services for University of Iowa Health Care. The department did cater at least one fairly elaborate dinner for a small group of donors in the space before it opened but generally the Press Box Café remains a space for patients and staff.
For patient-centered events, the typical fare includes pizza, cookies, cupcakes, lemonade and healthy options like granola bars. The football events also have meat-and-cheese trays but “the goal is to keep it very kid-friendly,” Robertson says. “Kids, especially kids in the hospital, like foods they know and are comfortable with, so that’s what we try to give them.”
Every child participating in the activities in the Pres Box Café is approved by their nurse to ensure there are no conflicts with clinical requirements like diet restrictions.
“We have a lot of kids with diabetes coming up to the cooking activities,” Whiteside notes, “and dietary helped us figure out the number of carbs in the foods like pizza they make so the child could trade it out for their evening snack, for example.”
The game-day activities, which can involve as many as 20 child patients and 120 family members, are assisted by volunteer U-Iowa athletes from sports other than football and there are appearances by members of the cheer squad and the band.
The Press Box Café is one of a group of activity spaces on the Stead Hospital’s top floor. There is also a glass-walled healing garden where patients and families can stroll among the plants and flowers when the weather is favorable, plus a meditation room and a vista space that serves as kind of overflow space for when the Press Box Cafe is full. It offers the same view of the stadium as the Press Box.
Stead Hospital’s in-house dining services operates a café on the building’s first floor augmented by a coffee shop that is operated by an outside contractor. Patients can order meals using tablet computers or their television screens from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. The system automatically limits their choices to selections compliant with any diet restrictions.
The Stead Children’s Hospital is connected to University of Iowa Health’s main hospital, which operates seven retail dining outlets on its premises. In all, the entire complex serves around 10,000 retail and patient meals a day.