VCU announced today that it will break ground Monday on a $168 million, 640,000-square-foot outpatient Children’s Pavilion that incorporates many of the elements contained in a proposal by the pediatrician consortium, PACKids, that aims to improve quality and ease of care for area children and their families. The VCU announcement was expected, according to area medical professionals familiar with the project.
"This is something we’ve had in mind for years, to make a more children and family-friendly environment,” says Shira Cantor, a spokeswoman with the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, calling it “just a consolidation of outpatient pediatric services on the MCV campus that is created and designed with children and their families in mind.”
VCU had a similar plan in mind back in 2005, when it announced — even before its merger with Children’s Hospital of Richmond — its intention to build "a full-service children's hospital" with 75 to 100 beds. That proposal, estimated to cost about $150 million, stalled with the economic downturn. Shira declined to comment on what, if anything, had changed to make the economics now feasible.
Included in the new VCU plan are 72 exam rooms, a surgical area with two operating rooms and two procedure rooms, as well as areas for diagnostic testing, imaging and laboratory services.
Those were just some of the hospital functions that PACKids continues to advocate having consolidated in a single facility that would treat only children and would provide streamlined care for those children as well as better services for their families.
Richmond is the only metropolitan area of its size in the country that lacks a dedicated, stand-alone children’s hospital.
“I don’t think it interferes with what we’re trying to do,” says Dr. Keith Derco, a Henrico County pediatrician who is also vice president of PACKids. “Is it enough to fulfill the vision we have? No.”
Derco says that even with this new facility being adjacent to VCU Medical Center's main campus and its existing 62 in-patient beds dedicated for kids, the VCU model does little to resolve the fragmentation of children's services that complicates their care. “Having been in towns with major children’s hospitals, that’s the place where everything’s consolidated. They transform care — this enhances care, but it doesn’t transform care.”
On the VCU side, Cantor declined to speak to whether the new facility aims to answer some of the criticisms that inspired the PACKids proposal and said university administration officials would not be available to address those issues until the Monday groundbreaking.
Last spring, university officials announced that they would no longer participate in the PACKids effort — though they said they remained open to continued talks — citing the desire to maintain control of the services and facilities they currently offer. Shortly after that, HCA Virginia officials announced that they, too, were withdrawing from participation in the PACKids proposal.
VCU officials have long maintained that they already provide the “continuum of care” for children that PACKids advocates, insisting that though their services are spread over a variety of locations and often not exclusive to providing care to children, their offerings already meet the goals laid out in the PACKids plan.
Meanwhile, the VCU announcement trumpets the plan as a major step forward in consolidated pediatric care, stating that the resulting facility “will be the largest and most advanced outpatient facility dedicated to children in the region.”
PACKids officials say they applaud the VCU effort and that they plan to have representatives in attendance at the groundbreaking.
"It's a wonderful thing," Derco says of the VCU annoucement. "It's a great first step."