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A Shared Mission: Improving Healthcare for Kids

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) share a common mission as champions for improving healthcare for children – a shared focus that was on full display during Pediatric Grand Rounds in January with guest speaker Mark Wietecha, President and CEO of the CHA.

Wietecha gave high praise for the many donors and administrators who are bringing the new Stony Brook Children’s facility to the community, opening in 2019. An estimated crowd of 250 pediatric physicians, administrators, community members and other healthcare professionals attended the event, held in the auditorium of the Medical and Research Translation (MART) building at Stony Brook Medicine.

“One of the things I love … is that you actually made a commitment and built a new hospital,” Wiecheta said. “And, you’ve done it in a good way. Having a venue and having a show of commitment to kids is exciting.”

Wietecha emphasized the unique role that children’s hospitals play in the health of their communities.

“Children’s hospitals are really the first and best line of expertise in what is wrong with your kid and what it is that you should do about that,” he said. “We have people who do nothing but see kids. There are specialists who know the full spectrum of what’s likely going on. And so, for anything that’s beyond your community checkup, major preventative care, simple things that you can either do at your local emergency department or with your pediatrician where you have a question, a children’s hospital is the place to start.

“When we think about kids in our hospitals, we think of kids sometimes as zero to [young adulthood],” Wietecha said. But “the majority of people in our hospitals where we really have an impact are zero to 12 or even zero to 4. We have a population, if you think about it, many of whom don’t speak. So, we need a caregiving group that can deal with patients who can’t communicate directly to you.”

In his remarks, Wiecheta also addressed three common misperceptions and predictions about the future of children’s hospitals and healthcare: funding, the need for inpatient beds and the use of technology. 

“There are at least three predictions I’ve heard that have never come true,” he said. “The first one is that everyone loves kids, we’ll take care of them…. You hear this pretty commonly.

“We had a series of alphabet soup reforms,” he said. “All of these proposals had, front and center, a dramatic reduction in Medicaid. Since half the recipients of Medicaid are kids, we take a disproportionate hit to kids, who are the future of our country. And the order of the cut was in the $30-$40 billion range. Kids are the lowest funded per capita in the United States; we pay about half to a quarter as much as we pay on other populations, for example, Medicare adults. And the idea that we would take the lowest funded cohort with the most years of life in front of them, and dramatically reduce our support for their futures, just almost seems unconscionable.”

The second misconception, he said, is that “hospitalization patient days are declining.  We won’t need any beds in the future. In fact, beds are obsolete. Why are we bothering to build beds? We should just have a giant ambulatory center here on the campus. And yet we walk around to a campus like this and the intensive care units and operating room schedules are packed. We don’t have enough capacity in children’s hospitals to take care of the medically complex segment today.

“With breakthroughs in children’s medicine – enabling the smallest babies and children with the most severe medical complexities to survive – the need for specialized pediatric care and beds available in dedicated children’s hospitals is actually increasing for our youngest population,” Wiecheta said.

The third myth, he said, is that “everything is just going to be high-tech, virtual, digital medicine. You know, we won’t even need any people. I don’t know why we’re training all you guys, right? We’re going to have artificial intelligence, we’re going to have robots, and fundamentally people will get all of their care over an iPad or something like this.”

“I think it’s actually something that, it’s important, will help us connect to the people we need, but it is not a substitute for what we do. In fact, it’s not even a pale substitute.

“I would invest all of you as you move into your new facilities to think about human connection and healing. And to not lose sight of that amidst the many shiny objects out there. I love technology as much as the next person. I think we could easily as an industry lose our focus on people. And what that means is investing in them and their resiliency….

“My hat’s off to you for putting the courage and the money forward to put up a new children’s hospital in New York,” Wiecheta said. “That’s a brilliant thing to do. Not easy to do in New York for all these reasons, but I commend you for that…. Keep waving the flag and be active in what you do.”

The event was hosted by Margaret McGovern, MD, PhD, Physician-in-Chief of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

To see highlights, click here