• Article
  • October 24, 2019

Defining Our National Children’s Hospital Community

No matter what a children’s hospital’s size, kids come first.

By Mark Wietecha

There are more than 6,000 hospitals in the United States, and of these, about 200 have taken steps to organize and serve the health and health care needs of children in their communities. These children’s hospitals range in size from hundreds of beds supporting large academic programs, to dozens of beds with a dedicated community focus, providing levels of pediatric service relevant to their missions and the communities they serve.

About 100 acute care children’s hospitals provide most of the comprehensive clinical programs, with many serving as regional and national referral centers for the most acutely ill children. Typically, these programs are in academic medical centers, advancing the pediatric missions of clinical care, training and research.

More than half are “operationally freestanding” with the higher volumes necessary to support pediatric operations and facilities dedicated to the needs of children. A number of these freestanding hospitals, often among the nation’s largest children’s hospitals, are independently governed.

The smaller-scale children’s hospitals, often operating a few dozen beds or less, play essential, diverse and complementary roles in the nation’s pediatric health care ecosystem. These children’s hospitals provide access to organized pediatric care for millions of children and families who would otherwise have to travel long distances or wait longer periods to reach the larger hospitals.

Virtually, all these hospitals operate as part of larger adult health care systems, and their lower volumes of care practically require the pediatric and adult programs to share many patient care and support services.

A final, important group of children’s hospitals serve highly specialized needs, providing varying programs of procedural, sub-acute and longer-term care to chronic and complex children.

The question is often posed, “What is a real children’s hospital?” As defined by focus on and compassion for children, all our children’s hospitals are real; they are simply serving different roles in caring for our nation’s children and families, and in supporting our pediatric medical education and research capacity.

Collectively, our national children’s hospital community is the essential safety net for all our children, the places of hope when there are no other answers, and often, magically, the places that make life possible for children and families in need.

Mark Wietecha is president and CEO of Children’s Hospital Association.

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