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Hospitals back off pediatric specialty

Deaconess, Valley won’t renew doctor contracts

Deaconess and Valley hospitals are scaling back their pediatric units as patient admissions remain low.

The two hospitals are not renewing an employment contract with a group of four doctors that specialize in treating children and work inside the hospitals.

The move means that the eight-bed pediatric unit at Deaconess will be open for adult patients.

Hospital spokeswoman Sasha Weiler said the move is not the end of pediatric care at the hospitals but rather an acknowledgment that the Spokane community already has a vibrant and dedicated children’s hospital at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center for the most serious cases.

“While we’ve opted not to renew the contract for pediatric hospitalist coverage, this change will not affect our ability to see pediatric patients in our emergency rooms at Deaconess and Valley Hospitals or in the outpatient setting at Rockwood Clinic,” the hospitals said in a statement.

She said most children requiring hospitalization have serious medical issues that require the care of the kind provided at Sacred Heart, not the more general care given at Deaconess and Valley.

The decisions will not result in laying off employees. Most nurses on the hospitals’ pediatric unit are cross-trained to work in other areas of the hospitals.

Deaconess had a solid pediatric wing until the early 2000s, when financial problems there and a communitywide collaboration among pediatricians and specialists launched the Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in 2003.

Deaconess, which was owned by Empire Health Services at the time, closed its pediatric unit in 2005.

After Community Health Systems bought Deaconess and Valley, and then bought the multi-specialty Rockwood Clinic, a decision was reached to reopen limited services to treat children.

The move upset some caregivers in the community who felt that Community Health Systems instead should have kept its competitive appetite in check and supported Sacred Heart Children’s as it sought to treat more children in the region rather than sending them to Seattle for specialty care.

Today, Sacred Heart Children’s has 177 beds and offers 28 pediatric subspecialties from oncology to cardiology to psychiatry.

The hospital also has its own emergency department dedicated to children.

Weiler said pediatric admissions have been dropping across the country for decades.

Federal data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Centers for Disease Control show a 58 percent reduction in hospital admission rates from 1970 to 2006.

Deaconess and Valley officials declined to disclose the cost savings tied to the move away from pediatric care. But state data show the number of child patients at the hospitals often numbered fewer than three or four on a given day.

The decision will have no effect on Rockwood Clinic’s busy pediatric practice. Nor will it affect the obstetric services at either Deaconess or Valley, or the neonatal intensive care unit at Deaconess.