El Paso Inc.
January 30, 2012
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Four years in the making, a dream for decades, the new El Paso Children’s Hospital is now just days away.
“It’s going to be a tremendous resource to the community, not only for services it will bring but also educationally,” said Dr. Jose Manuel de la Rosa, dean of Texas Tech’s Paul Foster School of Medicine and a pediatrician by training.
But people wonder what difference will it really mean to children who have severe diseases, traffic or athletic injuries and mental illness?
De la Rosa said having a children’s hospital linked to a public, full-fledged, four-year medical school will mean having many more children’s medical specialists available and a training ground where many newly minted pediatricians may choose to stay.
“That means we will be able to offer specialty care so children don’t have to go to Dallas or Tucson,” De la Rosa said.
However, some pediatric patients will need specialists outside of El Paso, including severe burn patients, as well as those with some cancer and open-heart surgery needs.
The list of more than 23 specialists recruited so far to work at the new children’s hospital includes a pediatric and critical care specialist, two child and adolescent psychiatry specialists, three critical care specialists and two pediatric cancer specialists.
Larry Duncan, the hospital’s CEO, said he is working to attract at least 10 more pediatricians and specialists.
The hospital also attracted one of the most sought-after specialties in the country, a pediatric emergency medicine physician whom others hope represents a trend.
Dr. Alfredo Maldonado, 34, is a 1995 graduate of Irvin High who attended Yale University and the Cornell School of Medicine and is now board certified in pediatric emergency medicine.
He will be working in the hospital’s pediatric emergency room.
An easy-going guy who prefers street clothes over medical garb on duty, Maldonado has a knack for putting young people at ease.
His physician wife came with him, Dr. Shaken Laks, an Israeli-born radiologist.
“It was a two-for-one deal,” he said. “We moved here last year from New York after my residency and fellowship in emergency medicine at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx.
“Growing up here, I saw the need, in pediatrics especially. Now, with the new children’s hospital and all, it was a great opportunity to come back.”
He and other medical professionals have been drawn to the children’s hospital because it is new, unique and promising, with a look and feel like no other hospital.
Some weeks ago, the hospital’s CEO, Larry Duncan, led a tour that included more than 30 pediatric nurses who were getting their first look at the nearly finished hospital where they will soon be working.
He pointed to the special features as he went: gently rounded corners on sinks, tables and counters, desks for doing homework and almost everything set lower to the floor for the smaller patients.
“You won’t find rooms this size anywhere else,” Duncan said, referring to large, private rooms.
From the bright and varied style of lighting, to the big windows, spacious rooms and wide halls, all splashed in bright shades of yellow and orange together with soothing greens and blues, it was obvious that this hospital is different.
It was built for kids.
When it opens, Duncan said, about 158 nurses and other clinical staff will transfer from the county’s University Medical Center as part of the 400 non-physician workforce.
Their total payroll will be about $20 million.
Physician contracts will total an additional $10 to 15 million a year, he said.
They will serve the huge under-18 market in El Paso that has always been underserved by pediatricians, specialists and hospital facilities.
Of El Paso County’s 800,647 population in the 2010 census, 240,813 or a full 30 percent were under age 18.
Among those touring with Duncan was Wendy Richow, who will be a pharmacy specialist in the pediatric intensive care unit. It’s a job she decided she wanted to go after while working at a non-profit hospital in Abilene.
“Here, I will get to work in a brand new hospital, state of the art, high technology,” she said. “Everything’s new, and we’ll be working with phenomenal physicians in a multi-disciplinary, teaching environment.”
For the past several months, Duncan, other administrators and board members from the children’s hospital and University Medical Center have been working weekends and holidays and holding meetings at least once a week that usually only happen once a month.
“It’s almost crunch time,” said James Valenti, CEO of the county’s hospital, UMC.
This coming week, he said, the children’s hospital will be subject to an extended inspection by Texas State Health Services.
“We can’t move anything in till they do that,” he said. “They have to approve the facility that we have been working overtime on for five years.”
The person who has probably been waiting the longest and, almost surely, working the longest for an independent children’s hospital is Dr. Carlos Gutierrez, a pediatrician and member of the board.
“I’ve been here since 1980 fighting for a children’s hospital,” he said. “When I started, I was 30, and now I’m 62 years old.”
What was the state of children’s medicine back then?
“When I began practicing here in 1980, we had 25 pediatricians,” he said. “That year, I went to a medical conference in Tucson and found out, they had 95.”
El Paso’s 425,259 person population then was nearly 100,000 higher than Tucson’s.
Though there has been a significant influx of pediatricians and pediatric specialists in the past five years, El Paso – with a 2010 population of 649,121 – still hasn‘t reached the number Tucson had 32 years ago.
The Texas Medical Association reports that there are 138 licensed pediatricians and pediatric specialists in El Paso, but Gutierrez and others agree that number includes many who are retired or no longer see patients.
“There are only 60 to 70 practicing now in El Paso,” Gutierrez said, referring to those in private practice, not the more than 20 who will be working at the children’s hospital when it opens.