CA: Baptist Memorial to open children’s ICU, compete with Le Bonheur

CA: Baptist Memorial to open children’s ICU, compete with Le Bonheur

Baptist Memorial Health Care this week applied for a construction permit for the Memphis area’s first pediatric intensive care unit not called Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital.

The $4.6 million project will fill second-floor shell space with a 12-bed intensive care unit above the 16-month-old pediatric emergency room at the Becky and Spence Wilson Baptist Children’s Hospital on the Baptist Memorial-Memphis campus.

A children’s ER for broken arms and strep throat is one thing, but Baptist’s plan to develop the specialization required to run a children’s intensive care unit in East Memphis may be seen as a shot across Le Bonheur’s bow.

As the name implies, intensive care units (ICU) require extra levels of monitoring and specialization in critical care for nurses and doctors.

The 64-year-old Le Bonheur has long held the franchise in the Memphis region as the go-to hospital for the sickest and most severely injured children. Based in the Medical District near Downtown, Le Bonheur opened a 255-bed, $340 million tower five years ago and is planning a $55 million expansion. Le Bonheur remains the only Memphis-area hospital accredited by the American College of Surgeons as a Level 1 Pedtriatric Trauma Center.

But the metro area is big enough for two children’s intensive care units, says Kevin Hammeran, chief executive officer of the Baptist women’s and children’s hospital.

Meri Armour disagrees. She’s chief executive officer of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital. The institution is part of Methodist Healthcare, a Memphis hospital system that competes with Baptist.

“I think it’s foolhardy to create ICU’s without having the best level of service and expertise available to children,” Armour told The Commercial Appeal. “I don’t think it helps children or families. I think it, quite frankly, is not the best thing to do.

” … I’d encourage other hospitals to think long and hard about it,” Armour said of creating pediatric intensive care units. “The risks are high and expertise they get will be very limited.”

If the Baptist pediatric emergency department receives patients who would be better served by Le Bonheur or some other children’s hospital, Baptist will continue transferring them, Hammeran said.

Said Armour, “It’s a very wise thing for him to say that. It represents the common thought among pediatric leaders.”

But Hammeran added, “Transferring patients unnecessarily is disruptive to their care and not family-centric.”

Economics professor John Gnuschke said the problem of hospitals following the suburban population with wealthier and more insured patients is widely acknowledged. The trend leaves core hospitals like Le Bonheur to serve a disproportionate number of the poor, uninsured and more seriously ill patients.

But Gnuschke, director of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis, added, “If anything, there’s far too little competition.

“Obviously, Baptist believes it has the ability to deliver high-quality services to a market where there’s a need,” Gnuschke said. “They’re not doing it because it’s out of the goodness of their hearts. They think they can do it and it’ll be both a service to the community and something they can do very well and generate money from it.”

The Baptist pediatric ICU is scheduled to be completed by December.

“The interesting piece, Le Bonheur has said on more than one occasion they are always, chronically full,” Hammeran said. “That should tell you there’s enough demand for two good programs to co-exist here.”

The new ICU will not compete with Le Bonheur “on every level,” Hammeran said. For example, far too few children’s heart transplants take place in Memphis to justify Baptist entering that field. “We’d be splitting that into two very small pot,” he said.

On the other hand, Baptist pediatrics has good neurosurgery, orthopedics, pediatric surgery and ear, nose and throat programs. “And we have a really big and capable neonatal ICU,” Hammeran said.

Like Hammeran, Armour said she does not see the two institutions as competitors for the pediatric care.

“What we do here at Le Bonheur is so radically different and advanced than they are capable of doing in a community hospital,” she said.

Armour said she’s not critiquing Baptist. “I believe down to the depths of my heart the best place for seriously ill or injured children is at a children’s hospital, whether Le Bonheur, UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) or Vanderbilt,” she said.

CA: Baptist Memorial to open children’s ICU, compete with Le Bonheur

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