August 6, 2004

State of Children’s Hospital address details dramatic growth in hospital’s first five months

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Arnold Strauss, M.D., gave his fourth annual “State of the Children’s Hospital” address on Tuesday. He detailed the growth of the new Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt since opening earlier this year. Photo by Anne Rayner

State of Children’s Hospital address details dramatic growth in hospital’s first five months

After five months in a new home, the department of Pediatrics within the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, has experienced dramatic growth and along with it, a few growing pains.

In his fourth annual “State of the Children’s Hospital” address Tuesday, Medical Director Arnold Strauss, M.D., reported the ups and downs (mostly ups) of this historic past year for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

While the budget has been very tight after an expensive move, the divisions within pediatrics have experienced dramatic growth. Numbers of patients served and services provided have increased by hefty margins in the last year, even though staffing has not yet increased in many of those divisions.

“Our emergency department visits have almost doubled since 1998,” Strauss said. “The emergency department and our intensive care units are where most of our patients come in to the hospital, and we’re seeing a lot more this year. Patient days will have increased 15 percent before the end of the year.”

An important trend has been the steady increase in outpatient services. With nearly 100,000 outpatient visits. In 2004, Strauss said he expects a big jump in numbers as the new Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Doctor’s Office Tower (VCH DOT) opens floor-by-floor in 2005.

By the first of the year, the hospital plans to open three floors of the new clinic building to accommodate most outpatient visits as well as opening up two more inpatient units in the main hospital.

The challenges come in the areas of profits and staffing. Getting and keeping enough registered nurses and support staff to keep pace with the growth is a constant challenge. Strauss said the hospital has managed to eek out a $2 million dollar profit in wake of a $15 million dollar move, but the department of Pediatrics has had a tough year.

Despite a record income of more than $55 million, the Department of Pediatrics operated at a $500,000 loss; the first loss in three years.

“Part of the solution will be increasing research grants,” Strauss said. “We’ve gone from a ranking of 38th in the nation in 2000, to 23rd this year for research funding. In this past year alone, we’ve increased the number of grants by 15 percent. But we’re working on increasing research grants. A goal for the new year is to increase NIH funding by 15 percent.”

The department has been hiring at steady and rapid pace. There are 145 faculty members now, with more hiring to come. The goal, Strauss said, is to build a team of the best clinicians, educators and researchers to secure national recognition and build a world-class hospital for children. Strauss said next year, watch for even bigger leaps in patient flow and staffing, and increases in services and research to match.