Health care is big business in the Pensacola metro area.
And it’s about to get bigger — especially when it comes to pediatrics.
Sacred Heart Hospital has announced plans to construct a new five-story Children’s Hospital at its Ninth Avenue campus. Work is set to begin early next year and the facility is planned to open in 2017.
Sacred Heart’s parent company, Ascension Health, will invest $55 million in the project, which will expand the Children’s Hospital to increase access to specialized pediatric and maternity care and consolidate children’s services at the hospital into one location.
On Oct. 5, West Florida Hospital will cut the ribbon on a new emergency room tailored to children at its campus on North Davis Highway. A news release from West Florida about the project says the Kids’ ER will address the emergency needs of children from infants to adolescents in a comfortable, reassuring environment.
“If children need to be admitted, we are now the only hospital in the area where the ER physician that initially sees a child will follow that young patient’s care from the moment he or she is admitted until discharged home,” release says. “This continuity of care makes the difference, and highlights our dedication to delivering the high quality, compassionate care you expect from West Florida Healthcare.”
Requests to West Florida’s marketing department seeking further clarification about the scope, expense and nature of the project were not fulfilled.
The Sacred Heart project will add 100 hospital jobs in the community, which sees health care as a crucial part of the local economy. According to Economic Modeling Specialists International, physician’s offices, hospitals, and nursing and residential facilities employ 22,518 people in the Pensacola metro area.
That is 11.6 percent of all jobs in the metro area, according to Phyllis Pooley from the University of West Florida’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement.
Job growth and access to health care are two keys forces that influence metrics in the Studer Community Institute’s Pensacola Metro Dashboard. Developed in consultation with the University of West Florida, the dashboard is a group of metrics that measure the social, educational and economic well-being of a community.
Carol Carlan, president of the hospital’s foundation, says fundraising is under way for the project to supplement the budget. The expansion will enhance the hospital’s reputation for excellence in pediatrics across the region. Children from South Alabama to Panama City are now transferred to Sacred Heart for specialty care.
Sacred Heart’s pediatric ER footprint
The existing pediatric emergency room in the region at Sacred Heart saw 33,000 patient visits in fiscal year 2015, which ended on June 30, according to Mike Burke, hospital spokesman.
Dr. Jesse Walck is the medical director of Sacred Heart’s pediatric emergency department. He came to Pensacola 13 years ago from Philadelphia to work specifically in the pediatric ER.
“Sacred Heart was attractive because we have the residency program through (Florida State University) and I wanted to be involved in that,” Walck said. “When I first came here, (the pediatric ER) was something that had been functioning for a while, but was open only at certain hours of the day.”
Two or three years ago, the pediatric ER expanded to be open seven days, 24 hours a day with a staff trained in pediatric specialties. That is important, Walck says, to the quality and continuum of care provided.
“The saying is that pediatric patients are not small adults. They have their own disease processes, their own illnesses and emergencies. You want people who specialize in that,” Walck said.
“There are a certain percentage of pediatric ER patients who are straightforward,” he said. “I imagine (West Florida) will be admitting patients who are straightforward admissions. I’m sure anything that’s going be more complicated will still be sent to us. Like all competition, it challenges us to do better.”
Robert Patterson is medical director of Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart Hospital. He said the hospital’s expansion benefits the community in terms of jobs and in terms of the intellectual capital it will bring to the area.
“One of the big reasons for our expansion was we were out of room in our neonatal unit,” Patterson said. “Kids don’t have jobs. Kids can’t afford to pay for themselves and Sacred Heart has a commitment to never ever, ever turning anyone away because they can’t pay, and certainly not a child.”
PhD-level professionals in specialties that touch the whole range of care for a pediatric patient will be drawn to the Pensacola area as a result of the project, Patterson said.
“Those people are in high demand and short supply across the country,” Patterson said. “It’s that level of expertise defines the standard you can provide.”
“I would support anybody in health care who wants to increase their level of comfort and expertise in caring for children,” Patterson said. “It is only a good thing for the community. You never know where you will end up in an emergency and the ability to stabilize someone and have a comfort level with their care is important.
“My expectation is that the referrals we get from (West Florida) will benefit form the higher quality of care of immediate care at their facility.”