STORY WRITTEN BY JEFF WERNER
@jefwr1982 on Twitter
NEW HOPE >> Wearing a pint-sized lab coat, Molly Owen of Sellersville sat behind the wheel of a kid-sized ambulance, spinning the steering wheel back and forth, flashing its red emergency light and having the time of her young life.
As a big smile stretched across Molly’s face, she let out a few giggles as her mom handed her a pretend CB microphone which she held up to her ear.
Nearby, youngsters played surgeon at a giant-sized version of the game “Operation,” consisting of an “operating table” lithographed with a comic likeness of a patient.
Using giant tweezer-like instruments, they removed organs from the patient – absent the startling “buzzing” sound that accompanied the original battery-operated game.
Meanwhile, other kids were busy checking out X-rays, monitoring heart rates and running through tests for the five senses.
The doors swung open Saturday morning on the “Hospital,” the newest exhibit at the Bucks County Children’s Museum in New Hope made possible through a partnership between the museum and Doylestown Health’s Della Penna Pediatric Center.
“We had a vision of creating a place where kids could learn and not be scared about the kinds of things that might happen in a hospital. We also wanted a place where we could teach about health and healthier lifestyles. Here we have it all,” said Jim Brexler, the President and CEO of Doylestown Health.
Brexler joined museum director Kelly Krumenacker, Dr. Jason Komasz, the lead pediatric hospitalist with the Della Penna center, and others in officially cutting the ribbon on the new addition.
Brexler said the exhibit is a natural extension of the hospital’s pediatric department and a good fit with the trend in healthcare toward more proactive ways of promoting healthy lifestyles.
The exhibit, he said, “is a big step toward accomplishing that and a big part of what we’d like to do with the pediatric program at Doylestown Health.”
The idea behind the “Hospital,” he said, is to expose children to different medical situations in a friendly, anxiety-free setting. Through role-play and exploration, he said children will learn more about the medical field, how the body works and what it means to be healthy through the new exhibit.
“If we can teach the kids how to live healthier lifestyles, they may just teach us how to do it too,” said Brexler.
Dr. Komasz added, “When we established the pediatric program with Doylestown Health, the biggest component we talked about was community involvement and community outreach.
“Our goal is to keep people out of our hospital,” he continued. “The best way to do that is to explain the body, explain ways to be healthy. The more young people learn about their bodies and their health, the more likely they are to stay healthy over their lifetimes. This is a big step toward accomplishing that.”
Brexler predicted the “Hospital” would become a favorite stop for children who visit the museum, adding that the giant-sized Operation game is among its coolest hands-on elements.
“I actually got the bones out without hitting the sides. It was exciting,” he said. “I’m hoping that it creates that same kind of excitement for the families and parents, not just for the kids who come through here.”
The “Hospital,” said museum director Kelly Krumenacker, fulfills a museum goal of providing a healthcare education component, which she said had been lacking.
“Now when families come here, they will learn not only about the body, but how to take care of themselves.”
In addition, she said, it will help demystify the hospital experience for the kids.
“I know how stressful it can be for children to go to a hospital. Having this exhibit here hopefully relieves some anxiety and an educational component as well,” she said.
Krumenacker commended Doylestown Health for making the exhibit possible.
“When we opened in 2011 they were there, providing all the hand-washing units we have.” And, she said, when Doylestown Health heard the museum was interested in developing a healthcare component, they immediately jumped on board.
“It’s been a really great partnership for both sides to create something very meaningful and functional,” she said.
Like Brexler, Krumenacker said her favorite part of the new exhibit is the giant Operation game because, she said, it connects the generations, sparking conversations between parents, who remember playing the game as kids, and their children who are experiencing it for the first time – without the startling buzzing sounds.
The museum, which opened its doors in Nov. 2011 at Union Square, became an overnight success. Today, it’s drawing more than 28,000 visitors a year, 30 percent of whom come from outside the Bucks County region to experience the county’s history and beauty “kid-style.”
“We want kids to come in, explore and learn at their own pace, on their own level and just enjoy,” said Krumenacker, a former elementary and special education teacher whose idea it was to create a museum just for kids in Bucks County.
“There are so many distractions out there – video games, cell phones. Put them away, come in here and just be mesmerized by what your kids are doing here at the museum,” she said. “Let them learn, play with them and experience the exhibits. It’s fantastic to see kids not only building their knowledge base, but making friendships too.”
IF YOU GO: The Bucks County Children’s Museum is located 500 Union Square Drive, New Hope. Hours are Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Monday. For information, call 215.693.1290. Admission is $8 per person for adults and children ages one and older and $6 per person for groups of 20 or more. Check buckskids.org