Pediatricians who long have been lobbying for a freestanding independent children’s hospital reacted with dismay and anger today at the news that Virginia Commonwealth University’s Health System and Bon Secours decided to pull out of talks to build just such a facility.
“I’m furious,” says Dr. Melissa Byrne Nelson, a pediatrician who sits on the board of PACKids, a grassroots organization of doctors and other health care professionals lobbying for the freestanding hospital. “I don’t know how else to put it. I think that a couple people decided – and I really mean that, a couple of health care administrators decided to put the bottom line over children’s health care.”
The health care systems announced the decision in a joint news release this afternoon. University president Michael Rao cited “continuing instability in the health care industry,” along with changing best practices in health care. The two health care systems will focus on “collaborative care,” he says, rather than a freestanding independent children’s hospital.
Both sides had been in negotiations since last October with the Virginia Children’s Hospital Alliance, headed by CEO and president Katherine Busser. A source close to the situation says it’s a “temporary setback,” and that the effort “isn’t necessarily over.”
The Alliance had planned a roll out of a statewide fundraising campaign in a few weeks, but already had a $150 million commitment from philanthropists Bill and Alice Goodwin. Goodwin did not return a call to his office as of press time.
Toni Ardabell, CEO of Bon Secours Richmond Health System, said in the news release that cuts in federal funding combined with rising labor costs and demands by insurance companies for greater cost savings have put “additional pressures” on both systems.
If the freestanding hospital were to fall short on funding, Ardabell says, “there would be negative consequences to consumers and commercial and government payers.”
Last August, the alliance received 20 site proposals from the city of Richmond and Henrico, Chesterfield and Goochland counties. “We want it to be in a location where the majority of families and children in the commonwealth can reach it,” Busser told the magazine for a story published in February. Busser also expressed optimism about the ongoing negotiations. “The fact that we haven’t gotten there before doesn’t mean we won’t get there this time,” she said for that same story.
Busser could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Keith Derco, vice chair of the PACKids board, says the doctors and parents who supported the effort are upset, but still committed.
“We’re really disappointed,” Derco says. “The health systems had a really unprecedented opportunity to transform the medical care here and did not do it.
Nelson put it less diplomatically.
“Even if you don’t have kids, you have to realize we just turned down a huge economic engine,” she says. A city that puts “beer and bicycles over our babies,” she says, “that’s not my town.
Tina Griego contributed to this story.