El Paso Inc.
Posted: Tuesday, February 7, 2012 12:00 pm
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Just five years ago, El Paso lacked the medical expertise to treat some children suffering from serious injuries and diseases.
The kids and their parents would have to travel out of town for medical care, taking expensive trips to places as close as Lubbock and as far away as Houston and Galveston.
And sometimes, children died because El Paso didn’t have the doctors young patients needed when they needed them.
Even for kids with conditions that weren’t life threatening, it meant heartrending decisions for parents who couldn’t afford specialty care elsewhere.
“In my practice, the issue would come up fairly frequently, and there would at least be a discussion with the family about needing some specialty care and what’s available in El Paso and what’s not,” said Dr. John Guggedahl, a pediatrician in practice for 33 years in El Paso.
“A lot of times, it’s not like an emergent, acute, high-end, patient-type care, it’s just about patient care from a subspecialist,” he said.
The region’s lack of pediatric specialists was one of the big selling points in the campaign for a separately licensed children’s hospital. In 2007, voters approved a $120 million bond to build one. And in the years since that vote, El Paso has come a long way in building its roster of pediatric specialists.
Since 2008, some 25 pediatricians and subspecialists have been recruited to work at El Paso Children’s Hospital, and negotiations are underway with others physicians. The hospital is scheduled to start admitting pediatric patients Feb. 14.
A study done before the 2007 election projected more than 3,700 admissions at the children’s hospital this year, and that its presence could reduce the need for out-of-town treatment by 20 percent in any given year.
This year, it projected, 109 children would be able to find the treatment they need at the new hospital, while more than 400 others would still leave town for treatment.
The situation may not be as good as some would like or need, but it’s vastly better than it was by all accounts.
Guggedahl, who is vice chair of the children’s hospital board, said the biggest need he’s aware of is for a pediatric endocrinologist to treat children with diabetes or growth failure.
“Many times, they would end up having to go out of town, and most of the time they would go to Lubbock,” he said.
Talks are underway with two endocrinologists, but so far, the children’s hospital has not been able to recruit one.
The community’s needs are being met by one physician, Dr. Robert Christenson, Guggedahl said.
“He does great work, but he is one person and we need three,” he said. “For that reason, it takes so long to get an appointment that sometimes parents are willing to go out of town to have more access to that specialist.”
The biggest success story, one that probably saves the most lives, has been in pediatric emergency care.
Five years ago, El Paso had one pediatric emergency specialist.
The Regional Children’s Hospital at Providence opened El Paso’s first pediatric emergency room last fall, announcing it was staffed with seven hard-to-find pediatric emergency medicine specialists.
The new El Paso Children’s Hospital will open the city’s second emergency room for children this month. It will be staffed by one pediatric emergency specialist and other emergency medicine physicians without the pediatric specialty.
Guggedahl said going from no pediatric emergency rooms to two is a giant step.
The new children’s hospital has also recruited seven critical care pediatric specialists, several of whom will be available part-time, to staff the pediatric intensive care unit for children with severe injuries and illnesses.
“That means they can provide 24-hour care and that these physicians can go home, have lives and see their wife or husband and children,” Guggedahl said.
He referred to one pediatric critical care specialist in particular, Dr. Jorge Sainz, who has been paid $2.4 million for work at University Medical Center, the former Thomason Hospital, since 2008.
“He would spend many days at the hospital and not go home,” Guggedahl said.
Recruited by the children’s hospital, Sainz has been joined by other full timers who, like him, will move to the children’s hospital when it opens on Valentine’s Day.
Anesthesiology is another success story.
“Five years ago, I don’t think we had any pediatric anesthesiologists, and now we will have at least four at the El Paso Children’s Hospital and one, I think, at Providence,” Guggedahl said.
Oncology is another area that has been shored up in El Paso with the arrival of two pediatric cancer specialists, Drs. Mary Lacaze and Arlynn Mulne. They teach at Texas Tech’s Paul L. Foster School of Medicine and see patients.
“That’s really been a big help,” Guggedahl said. “It’s good for the patients because they don’t need to be out in the middle of the night waiting for someone to come help them.”
Two other pediatric oncologists have been working with Providence’s children’s hospital, Drs. Benjamin Carcomo and Roberto Canales, whose practice is not focused exclusively on children with cancer.
Some children with cancer will still need to leave El Paso for specialized care. But Guggedahl said the new children’s hospital intends to establish a children’s oncology group, and to seek certification to use state-of-the-art cancer treatments in El Paso. That could take several years.
Three areas of pediatric medicine will continue to require out-of-town care: acute burns, heart patients needing surgery, and children with unusual skin conditions and diseases and other dermatological problems.
Paul Ocon, a veteran of children’s hospitals around the country whose family is from Juárez, will be the chief of nursing at the new children’s hospital.
He rattled off the new pediatric subspecialists and the new services they have brought to El Paso in recent years.
“I think that the beauty of the situation is even though we haven’t opened our doors yet, those who are present have really increased the resources available to our population,” he said.
E-mail El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.
d: 3:16 pm, Tue Feb 7, 2012