Why Must Hundreds of Richmond Children Seek Medical Care Outside Richmond?

VCU Children's Pavilion -- no substitute for an, independent, free-standing children's hospital.
VCU Children’s Pavilion — no substitute for an, independent, free-standing children’s hospital.

by James A. Bacon

An excellent article in Style Weekly asks an important question: “Hundreds of local children have illnesses that send them beyond Richmond to seek pediatric care. Why can’t we treat them here?”

The answer: Because the Richmond region is one of the few in the country not to have a dedicated, free-standing children’s hospital. And why doesn’t Richmond have a children’s hospital? Well, you’ll have to read the article, written by former Bacon’s Rebellion contributor Peter Galuszka, to find out. While Peter refrains from tarring and feathering the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, evidence in his article points to VCU’s desire to hang on to its own pediatric business as a major obstacle.

As it happens, I’ve been poking around the edges of this story, which I may or may not have time to pursue. One angle among many that are worth investigating would be to document just how many families must seek medical treatment outside Richmond because specialized pediatric services are not available locally.

I recently chatted with two prominent pediatricians. They cited a report that said about 750 children each year seek medical attention outside the Richmond area, in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. That doesn’t include many hundreds of others who seek care, say, at Duke University in North Carolina, or any number of other hospitals around the country.

The problem is that Richmond divides the pediatric practice between three hospital systems: VCU, Bon Secours and HCA. A children’s hospital, advocates say, would create a volume and scale of operation that none of those institutions can achieve on their own. A higher volume would enable a children’s hospital to recruit more pediatric specialists to Richmond. Instead of seeking care outside the region, with all the added costs of travel, overnight stays and time off from work that entails, many families could find that treatment available here in town. There will always be some rarefied specialties that the local medical marketplace can’t support, but a children’s hospital would alleviate the problem to a significant degree.

VCU President countered that logic with vague statements regarding the continued instability and uncertainty in the health care industry and the argument that “collaborative care” was a better approach than a stand-alone hospital. What do they mean by collaborative care? Who knows? Writes Galuszka: “Rao and [Bon Secours CEO Toni] Ardabell declined interviews to elaborate on their positions.”

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  1. Rowinguy Avatar

    That was a good article, but the comments posted to it at Style were even better. Anyone reading Peter’s article should be sure to check out those comments. Thanks for linking that Jim.

  2. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    VCU and Bon Secours both have to insulate themselves from external circumstances that would endanger their primary goals – education and non-profit care, respectively – whereas Bill Goodwin does not.

    Bruce Rubin points out that VCU’s pediatric department recently added 60 staff members that would have to be let go, which would be detrimental to the university’s primary goal of educating future physicians.

    And as someone in the Style article observes, those children’s hospitals in other areas are all attached to universities. Goodwin doesn’t want to partner directly with VCU because he doesn’t want to cede the level of control they’re asking for. That’s fine, it’s his money and he can do with it what he wants, but the continued framing as if VCU and Bon Secours are the only unwilling parties keeping a top notch children’s hospital from coming to Richmond is inaccurate.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I agree with LOFL – there are existing players and one way forward is to utilize them as existing assets to form something bigger than the sum of the parts.

      So the proposal is a destructive one – in my view – and, yes, it does sound like a power thing.

      Framing this as something that competes against and argues against existing players is counter-productive – not optimistic.

      that’s how we fail….

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