I attended a Groundbreaking Ceremony for the VCU Medical Center/Children’s Hospital of Richmond and its “planned-for-2014” outpatient pediatric clinic facility… and I’m sure I was the only one who left in tears.
Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU is the official name of our city’s only full service hospital for children, but most people would be hard pressed to recognize it as a true hospital for children. It’s the entity that resulted when Children’s Hospital on Brook Road merged with the department of Pediatrics at VCU-MCV in 2010. Although CHoR provides pediatric healthcare on a couple of floors of the VCU Medical Center and in outpatient clinics across just about every part of town, it’s still the only “children’s hospital” we have; and it seems to be a phoenix rising from the ashes.
After years of declining faculty numbers, diminishing research grant funding, and disappointing results in the Residency Match program, the faculty and pediatric staff at the university exude a real sense of hope these days as their children’s division appears to have turned the corner. With financial support from the Children’s Hospital Foundation endowment, the university has hired a significant number of new pediatric faculty members and they are building a $168 million dollar outpatient facility. With a ‘meet-and-greet’ for these new faculty members and a Groundbreaking Ceremony for their outpatient clinic, I really could feel an energy and an enthusiasm that has been missing in the academic medical community for some time.
So what are all the tears about? Earlier in the summer, collaborators from the Richmond area, with VCU and BonSecours, were working together to build a TRUE Children’s Hospital for our city. (I’m not sure what else to call a hospital where kids get their entire specialized healthcare in one facility, and they don’t have to share it with grown-up patients…but that’s what I mean when I call my dream a True Children’s Hospital.) There were many hope-filled planning meetings underway. Several hundred pediatricians came together to form PACKids, an advocacy organization dedicated to supporting the collaborators and this true Children’s Hospital. It seemed like there was even philanthropic seed money to get the whole endeavor started, and then …
Then something went wrong. It looked like VCU had taken its collaborative dishes and dolls and had gone home. I don’t pretend to understand all the intricacies and the politics. I’m not sure I could explain them to the children even if I knew what they were, but I can spot the need for altruistic selflessness when I see it. And it will take medical and business leaders who put the needs of Richmond’s children before their own turf-needs to make this true hospital a reality.
As a former Bundy professor of pediatrics, I served on the faculty at the university in 2007 and 2008. As a graduate of the medical school and a product of the university’s residency training program, I do have a soft spot for my alma mater. Sadly, pediatrics there has struggled in the last ten to fifteen years to find steady footing and lasting leadership. Many recall that back in 2005, VCU-MCV announced it would build a free-standing, full-service hospital with help from Children’s Hospital on Brook Road. Eighteen short months later in 2007, with very little fanfare and NO public outcry, the plans were scraped. I recall that an outpatient pediatric clinic facility was mentioned as the consolation prize back then.
We have managed all these years without a true Children’s Hospital. But once again, we seemed to be so close! It doesn’t seem to matter that Richmond is the ONLY city its size that has yet to build a free-standing hospital for its youngest citizens. The consolation prize is a new outpatient clinic building again. “All the specialists under one roof and with seven floors of parking!” said the CEO…”but not the True Children’s Hospital,” I thought.
And that’s when I started to cry. I looked around for some of my private practice colleagues, and I saw one. But just one. I wished the PACK had been there. I saw some of the specialists I refer to, some of my mentors from residency, the physician-in-chief I interviewed back in 2008. I could hear the administrators thanking board members and the sweet child with cerebral palsy. But the tears kept coming…and I thought it best to excuse myself before I had to explain. I knew I’d have a hard time explaining twenty years of wishing that my patients could have what all the other cities have. With seven floors of parking.