RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Bon Secours and VCU Medical Center are reversing course and pulling their support for an independent, stand-alone children's hospital for the Richmond area, according to a supporter of the project.
The two hospital systems are no longer backing the project, confirmed Dr. Gayle Schrier Smith, a pediatrician and active member of PACKids, the grassroots organization pushing for the hospital.
Dr. Melissa Nelson, who's on the PACKids board, tells NBC12 she was devastated to learn the news.
"I'm still trying to figure out how they can consider what we currently provide to be 'good enough' for Richmond's children," says Dr. Nelson.
She say the region has what she calls an 'all-star team' right here, an independent hospital would have consolidated that for area children.
Explains Nelson using a baseball metaphor,"We have the Yankees, if you will, in pediatrician specialists, pediatric doctors, nurses, therapists- they're just playing for different teams. We have the chance to build the right stadium and play on the same team."
Critics of an independent children's hospital have argued children are already served by existing healthcare facilities and their needs will be met by a new outpatient Children's Pavilion at VCU currently under construction. However, PACKids has said an independent children's hospital is needed because VCU's plans won't meet all the needs of children in the area.
The debate over how and where Richmond can build a freestanding children's hospital has been going on for years, but appeared to be gaining steam in March when Richmond officials visited Nashville, in part to see the world-renowned Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt. Richmond philanthropists Bill and Alice Goodwin supported the effort for an independent hospital with $150 million ready to go to the cause. VCU and Bon Secours agreed last year to pursue the project.
But, Thursday there seemed to be a change of heart as VCU and Bon Secours announced the plan wasn't feasible. The health systems say the market has changed, so the proposed independent model wouldn't work.
"Cuts to hospitals under federal and other programs, coupled with labor cost increases and cost savings required by commercial insurance payers, have placed additional pressures on both of our systems," says Toni Ardabell, CEO of Bon Secours Richmond Health System.
But, the hospital systems say going through this process they've learned the importance of improving their care:
"We heard loud and clear during this process that the most important among these is to collaborate to eliminate barriers to navigation and fragmentation of services, especially in the care of our sickest children." explains Michael Rao, Ph.D., President VCU & VCU Health System.
No word what will happen to the $150-million dedicated to this project
As for Dr. Nelson, she says this independent hospital is something this region's children need and she's not giving up the fight.
VCU Medical Center and Bon Secours issued this statement:
Thursday, May 21, 2015
Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health System and Bon Secours Richmond Health System today announced that after significant review they believe the proposed freestanding independent children's hospital ("ICH") model is not a viable approach for Richmond. More importantly, the two systems have agreed to refocus their efforts to advance children's health through greater collaboration on initiatives that improve access to and coordination of care for all children.
"We have thoroughly and collaboratively explored the possibilities for creating an independent children's hospital," said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president, VCU and the VCU Health System. "The health systems concluded that continuing instability in the health care industry and changes in best practice health care models were key forces driving the decision to focus on collaborative care rather than a freestanding ICH facility."
"Cuts to hospitals under federal and other programs, coupled with labor cost increases and cost savings required by commercial insurance payers, have placed additional pressures on both of our systems as we continue to care for the underserved in our community," said Toni Ardabell, CEO of Bon Secours Richmond Health System. "If the ICH falls short on funding, there would be negative consequences to consumers and commercial and government payers."
In addition, both health systems stated that the proposed independent model already may be outdated as national and local health care industry trends are moving away from stand-alone facilities toward consolidation and coordinated care networks that leverage existing facilities and promote more outpatient and home-based programs. They noted that more than 90 percent of pediatric care takes place in outpatient settings.
"The health care industry is transforming from a hospital-centric model to one focused on prevention and wellness through greater sharing of information among providers. Collaboration among all providers is the key to advancing children's health in Richmond," explained Ardabell.
Rao and Ardabell thanked community philanthropists, especially Bill and Alice Goodwin, as well as pediatricians and pediatric specialists for shining a spotlight on children's health and motivating everyone to roll up their sleeves and sincerely explore an independent children's hospital. "We have learned a lot about the needs and desires of patients, families, caregivers, community pediatricians and pediatric specialists, and the importance of focusing on access to and coordination of care for all children," said Rao.
While remaining individual health systems with their own distinct missions, the two organizations have agreed to work together for the good of the community and to advance children's health care in Richmond, with the opportunity for wide participation of health care and other organizations across central Virginia.
"We will continue to commit significant resources to build on our existing clinical, teaching and research foundations, and explore more opportunities to create integrated and collaborative networks, based on the collective strengths of the current pediatric health resources in the community," said Rao. "We heard loud and clear during this process that the most important among these is to collaborate to eliminate barriers to navigation and fragmentation of services, especially in the care of our sickest children. Other examples might be collaborations that involve shared technology, childhood obesity, asthma and violence prevention."
"This process has helped promote an important dialogue within the community and has helped to forge valuable partnerships," Ardabell said. "We pledge to the parents and children of greater Richmond and central Virginia that we will always strive for excellence and to grow pediatric specialty care in collaborative ways that will benefit all children and their families."
Ardabell added, "We also pledge to the community of pediatric health care providers continued cooperation between VCU, Bon Secours and others in the sharing of benchmarks, research and care models, and a continued effort to look for synergistic ways to improve the health of our children and the community as a whole."