Deaconess Medical Center once again will treat children with influenza, pneumonia and other serious illnesses, reversing a decision five years ago to close its pediatric unit.
“All of the employees are very excited to be able to care for children again,” said Ann Seaburg, who directs women’s and children’s service for the hospital.
Pediatric care is considered a cornerstone of hospital care, along with such services as labor and delivery, cardiology, surgery and intensive care. So it was a grave move in 2005 when Deaconess executives, scrutinizing every department to find savings in the wake of a $30 million loss, sent ill children to Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital.
Today things are looking up at Deaconess. The hospital is gaining a steady stream of patients from its new partnership with Rockwood Clinic. That alliance includes 12 pediatricians at Rockwood, the largest collection of children’s doctors in the region, said Rockwood spokeswoman Jill Fix.
Deaconess will offer eight patient beds for sick children early next year.
The hospital does not have plans to offer specialty care for children stricken with cancer, suffering traumatic injuries or life-threatening disease requiring intensive care treatment.
Children with serious conditions will continue to be treated at Sacred Heart.
The two hospitals have been competing fiercely for patients and prestige in the two years since Community Health Systems Inc. bought Deaconess and began upgrading the hospital and most importantly, buying Rockwood and its huge base of patient referrals.
Executives at both hospitals insisted the pediatrics issue would not dilute Spokane’s ability to treat the sickest children.
“In some ways it makes sense for Deaconess to have pediatrics,” said Peggy Mangiaracina, a Sacred Heart vice president and director of its children’s hospital.
Sacred Heart has 90 beds for children and nearly 120 specialists among its medical staff to treat most of the serious medical conditions afflicting children.
The hospital has pared down some of its general pediatric services as patient volumes lag, Mangiaracina said, but remains able to quickly reopen those patient rooms if needed.
Though relations between Sacred Heart and Rockwood have frayed, Mangiaracina said all sides have a commitment to ensure good care.
“We enjoy a very solid and professional relationship with Rockwood pediatricians,” she said.
Even though Deaconess ceased pediatric care five years ago, that hospital continued to offer a full-service labor and delivery unit, a mother-baby floor, and a neonatal intensive care unit for babies born premature or with serious health conditions.
Sending those families later to Sacred Heart to be re-admitted and cared for “left a terrible gap here,” Seaburg said. “Pediatrics is a basic service at hospitals. These children and their families bonded with us and we bonded with them.”
She said parents and physicians deserve a choice of where to have children treated.
At the time when Deaconess closed its pediatrics unit, it was averaging as few as four patients per day out of its 26 beds.
The floor has been reconfigured to house respiratory care, although the brightly painted walls and other whimsical touches remained.
Deaconess has hired Robbie Landry as assistant director of pediatric care. She recently left a 30-year career at Holy Family Hospital to help restart the Deaconess children’s unit.
The hospital also will hire four full-time registered nurses specializing in pediatric care, and six employees working two-thirds time.
“This has been something everyone at the hospital feels passionate about,” Seaburg said.