More than 100 pediatricians from the Richmond region have banded together with one thing in mind — a free-standing hospital where medical care is available only for children, and all under one roof. Such a facility would have made Leigh Bernard's life far less complicated.
"My 9-year-old twins, Taylor and Sydney, were born prematurely in a Richmond hospital in 2001," Bernard says. "Taylor sustained a birth injury, which caused cerebral palsy. I was told she would never walk, to give up."
Instead of giving up, Bernard has taken Taylor to six states, besides Virginia, seeking medical care she couldn't find in Richmond. Taylor, who sees six physicians and three other specialists in support care, did walk at 5 but is now relegated to a motorized wheelchair, with the goal of using a walker.
"We don't have a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach in one place here; therefore, the care isn't optimal," Bernard says. "Most children with disabilities also have other issues, like nutrition. That's why it's so important to have secondary services available."
A full-service children's hospital has been discussed in Richmond for at least 40 years. Dr. Ted Abernathy, who established a practice here 37 years ago, is one of the leaders of PACK: Pediatricians Associated to Care for Kids, formed in March.
"We envision a campus with inpatient and outpatient care, medical offices, accommodations for parents, healing gardens, a petting zoo and a playground," he says.
"We're in the process of creating the Virginia Children's Hospital Foundation," Abernathy continues. "We hope all of the area hospital systems participate with us to make this dream a reality. The next step will be fundraising. We'll be reaching out to the philanthropic community and everybody willing to give us a nickel or a million dollars."
Dr. Melissa Nelson, a Richmond pediatrician previously employed at Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania, stresses the benefits of such a facility.
"There's less fragmentation of care, better communication among physicians, nurses, therapists, staff," Nelson says. "We have quality medical professionals here who care deeply for kids, but they're spread all over town, and that's getting worse as each of the individual hospital systems develops [its] own separate piece."
Dr. Frank Mazzeo agrees. Currently a pediatric anesthesiologist at St. Mary's Hospital, Mazzeo previously worked at the University of Virginia Children's Hospital.
"I took care of many children from Richmond at U.Va., and when I worked at the [Children's Hospital of] King's Daughters in Norfolk," he says. "Unfortunately, most, if not all, of the inpatient services for children in Richmond [are] at hospitals that primarily care for adults. I'd venture to guess that adult hospitals in Richmond have a pediatric caseload of about 10 percent, so it's a very small part of their service."
Dr. Judith Grossberg, who has practiced in Midlothian for 18 years, believes that a facility serving children exclusively can enhance care while benefiting the community.
"The pediatricians in town give the kids really good care, but we can make that great care with a children's hospital," Grossberg says. "It will enable us to recruit and retain specialists the community needs so we don't have to send kids outside the city or the state.
Dr. Keith Derco, a Richmond pediatrician for 15 years, also wholeheartedly supports the effort. "Ideally, we'd be utilizing all the resources we have in town, creating an environment where the experience is centered around the children and their families, but we're still in the concept phase. The vision we have is to develop an entity where the child comes first. The most important thing, though, is to get going on the vision."
©Nancy Wright Beasley 2011. All rights reserved.