Three years ago, Little Rock-based healthcare organization Arkansas Children’s announced plans to build a new pediatric hospital in Springdale with the help of local donations and community support totaling $80 million. The announcement was made at the organization’s annual fundraising gala in Rogers in August 2015.
Fast-forward to Aug. 3, 2018, and Arkansas Children’s CEO Marcy Doderer said this year’s Color of Hope Gala will be about celebrating the success of that goal and highlighting 10 personal stories from families who have relationships with Arkansas Children’s and benefit from the local services made possible by more than 14,000 financial donors.
“We are seeing strong demand and are thrilled to be providing local pediatric care to so many families in this region over the past six or seven months,” Doderer told Talk Business & Politics in an interview ahead of Friday’s gala.
For the first time in three years, she said Arkansas Children’s doesn’t have a major announcement at the annual fundraising event.
“However, we are excited about the success of our first full-service hospital outside of Little Rock. Since opening in February we are averaging around 2,200 visits per month in Springdale.” Doderer said.
Demand is strong for Arkansas Children’s services, particularly outpatient care, she said. The hospital averages about 10 in-patients per day, and the bulk of visits are for outpatient care. She said the hospital’s pediatric emergency room has room to grow and can handle any emergency situation that arises with a child or teen.
Barrett Diebold, a 14-year-old from Fayetteville, recently sought treatment at the new Arkansas Children’s Northwest emergency room for an ankle injury which occurred during a tennis match. He said the injury turned out to be a ligament strain but knowing there are specialists at Arkansas Children’s Northwest geared toward children and teens, “there’s not a better place to seek care for injuries or illness.”
Diebold said his relationship with Arkansas Children’s goes back more than a decade when he was diagnosed with, ironically, Barrett’s Esophagus at the age 3. The disease destroyed his esophagus and he was looking at a feeding tube by age 5. But doctors created a new esophagus for Diebold out of tissue taken from his stomach. He has since been under the care and watch of pediatric gastro specialists in Little Rock for complications like his inability to vomit.
Sarah Sparks Diebold, Barrett’s mother, said knowing there are local experts geared to pediatric care is a blessing and it doesn’t matter if it’s seeing to an injured ankle, broken arm or something more serious.
“The world-class specialty doctors at ACH Northwest are trained to treat young people and there’s nothing more reassuring to a parent of sick or injured child that the doctors rendering care are trained to treat kids,” she said. “When Barrett has an episode with a stomach bug and the complications of his gastro condition it can be serious, and we have not always had the best experiences using other emergency rooms. It’s great to know ACH is here for us and other families who need pediatric speciality care day or night. When your sick child has less stress that’s less stress for you.”
Doderer said Arkansas Children’s is still recruiting pediatric specialists to the region. She said at the top of the list are a gastroenterologist and endocrinologist which are somewhat rare. Until then, kids like Barrett Diebold can still get the specialty care locally through telehealth with doctors in Little Rock.
Doderer said the Springdale hospital has pediatric specialists in cardiology, orthopedics, pulmonology, neurology, and general surgery. Doderer said the hospital is focusing on recruiting additional physicians who will live in Northwest Arkansas. She said it’s too early to talk about expansion plans for the Springdale center but it’s likely outpatient services will be the first area of expansion.
“When you invest in a new hospital you are not looking at just three to five years, but instead taking a 20- or 30-year long view. We know there will be expansions to the local hospital over time and we are watching closely the growth of the region and the needs for serving children in a 150-mile radius. I have recently joined the Northwest [Arkansas] Council and look forward to that association as we assess our future growth opportunities around meeting the needs of this region,” Doderer said.
She said it has been an amazing journey to get the hospital up and running and on budget. She said the final construction tally came in at $167 million which was in line with the revised budget. Doderer said she is proud of the hospital’s safety record during the construction, outfitting and getting open and first six months of operations, which happened at a fast pace from start to finish.
“We have had no significant injuries during that entire process and that’s rare for hospitals undertaking this kind of new startup. Safety is at the center of our core principles and it’s good to see our record on the physical startup. We have a team who worked hard to make that a reality,” Doderer said.
When asked about growing pains with the new facility, Doderer said so many things ran smoothly it’s hard to pinpoint any real hiccups. Doderer said learning how to operate as a health system is a new dynamic for Arkansas Childrem’s, given for a 100 years it has operated solely from Little Rock.
“Now to have a full facility and team of folks located in Springdale is a learning opportunity for all of us,” she said. “We have to make sure we lead and work together and we leverage the talent and expertise in each region so we know who is the right person to lead a project or work on an issue. This isn’t a surprise, but it is some of the harder work for us.”
She said Arkansas Children’s just finished fiscal year 2018 on June 30 and is wrapping up the books on those finances.
“We came in just under budget on expenses and a little over budget on revenue which always for make a good year-end,” Doderer said. “It was a big year for us with significant investment in Northwest Arkansas for the hospital in Springdale and systemwide we have spent another $70 million over the past year or so refreshing our entire information systems platform. We have had a lot of heavy expenses and to perform better than budget is a really good thing.”
Another really good thing is money raised with two events in Northwest Arkansas. The 25th annual Will Golf 4 Kids Tournament and the 11th annual Color of Hope Gala raised $1.57 million for the Springdale hospital. The events were held Aug. 2 and Aug. 3, respectively.
Officials with the two events pledged in 2016 to raise $5 million in five years for the hospital. In two years they have raised $3.8 million toward the pledge.