For the first time in more than 40 years, Billings Clinic is planning a dedicated inpatient pediatric unit to accommodate the growing demand.
Construction on the $1.4 million unit is set to begin this fall and be completed in the first half of 2015.
Until then, pediatric patients, about 400 annually, will be housed throughout the adult inpatient care areas.
The new pediatric inpatient unit, in the planning stages since 2006, is the beneficiary of the 2014 Billings Clinic Classic, the major fundraising event for the hospital. Country singer LeAnn Rimes will headline this year’s Classic this Saturday in downtown Billings. The goal is to raise 100 percent of the unit’s cost through philanthropy.
Dr. Nicholas Wolter, CEO of Billings Clinic, said the vision for the pediatrics department has come from the Clinic’s “new generation of pediatricians” that recognize the needs of families in the region.
“We would like to provide primary care pediatrics and specialty care pediatrics at the highest levels of quality so that when people need things they don’t have to head to Seattle, Denver or Minneapolis,” Wolter said.
In the new unit, all rooms will be private and some will have views of Dehler Park. Patient rooms will have space for family members who, research shows, are essential to the well-being and healing of young patients.
Plans for the unit include a separate, “cheerful” treatment room, where all painful or uncomfortable procedures or treatments will be performed. This provides children with a sense of security in knowing their patient room is a safe haven, said Dr. Michelle Pierson, chair of the pediatrics department.
Additionally, an “Imagination Room” will provide a safe space for positive distraction, so young patients and their siblings can play together.
State-of-the art security measures will be incorporated into the design to give parents peace of mind for their child’s safety if mom and dad cannot be in the room.
Billings Clinic has not had a dedicated inpatient unit since the early 1970s when it decided to focus on cardiac care. In 1972, the hospital pioneered open-heart surgery in Montana.
“I don’t know if it was ever formal, but Billings Clinic decided to focus on cardiac and St. Vincent Healthcare had more of a focus on women, children, pediatrics and deliveries,” said Jim Duncan, president of the Billings Clinic Foundation.
So, Billings Clinic discontinued births until the late 1990s, when it opened the family birth center and the neonatal intensive care unit and never looked back. The number of newborns — and pediatric services — has grown steadily, creating a demand for pediatric specialists and the inpatient unit to provide seamless, coordinated care for children with complex diseases.
The Family Birth Center has been expanded twice since it opened in 1999; the NICU has also been expanded, increasing the number of babies it can care for in the unit from 13 to 19.
The Family Birth Center has experienced a 58 percent increase in annual patient days since 2002, as the center expands its draw from Eastern Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.
“Now more than ever it is time to build a dedicated pediatric inpatient space to better meet the needs of the families and children we serve,” Pierson said. “We’ve put a lot of thought into what it’s going to take to sustain pediatric specialty care in a rural environment because in 2014 pediatric care has gone way beyond the country doctor and the general pediatrician.”
Children are living longer with more complicated diseases, she said. And, with the advent of the Internet, parents are much savvier and expect specialists for much of their child’s care.
To meet the demand, Billings Clinic has built the largest pediatric practice in the state, comprised primarily of physicians with ties to Montana and Wyoming. In addition to the full-time pediatricians, they boast a robust staff of pediatric specialists in dermatology, diabetes, gastroenterology, cardiology, allergy, neonatology, neurology, oncology and hematology, ophthalmology, pulmonology, psychology and psychiatry and behavioral health.
“I love this,” Pierson said. “I’m a fourth-generation Montanan. This is my home. I’m thrilled about growing something at home for my people.”