In front of a giraffe mural in the newly renovated pediatrics department at St. Vincent Healthcare, administrators met Monday to celebrate a new program that will bring advanced pediatric surgeons to Billings.
The hospital is expanding its current partnership with the Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and the University of Utah’s School of Medicine, both in Salt Lake City. The partnership will feature 10 pediatric surgeons of different expertise, including neonatal surgery, rotating their time in Billings.
The doctors will be on call 24 hours, spend one to two weeks in town, take consultations, and perform one elective surgery per week. Any of the 10 doctors in Utah will also be able to offer tele-medical services, if their expertise is needed while they aren’t in Billings.
“We built in redundancy into our system,” said Dr. Katie Russell, Trauma Medical Director at Primary Children’s Hospital. “We all do pediatric surgery. But we each have our own areas of expertise.”
Russell said the program has been worked out so there isn’t a lapse in care in Billings or at facilities in Utah. Each doctor has a specialty, and then a backup to cover when a doctor is gone, in addition to tele-medical services.
“We’re hoping to bring the two worlds much closer together, and make it not disruptive to our practices but beneficial for the kids,” Russell said, who had just arrived in Billings Monday morning.
The goal is to treat children and families and keep them close to home —including starting outreach clinics in more rural areas of Montana.
Children needing specialty care will “be able to do that here,” said Dr. Janis Langohr, medical director of pediatrics at St. Vincent, who was instrumental in creating the program.
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There will be a few weekends when there are no doctors from Utah in Billings, but St. Vincent’s general surgeons will cover those, and specialists will still be available via tele-communicating, she said.
Each doctor will spend about 6 weeks in Billings during a year, and live in apartments, with a car, provided by St. Vincent.
The program is already in full-swing, with the first doctor, Eric Scaife, starting in early September. Scaife is the division of pediatric surgery chief at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine.
There have already been about 3 surgeries since the program started, said Langohr. She followed up on each surgery and said that the families were delighted with the process.
St. Vincent has been in partnership with the Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital and the University of Utah’s School of Medicine since 2016, when the affiliation was formalized.
That partnership eased transfers from Billings to Utah, allowed the hospital to have specialty training, and work together on research with the nationally recognized children’s hospital and medical school. All of that remains, except that children won't likely have to transfer out-of-state.
“This is a first," said Langohr. "This is groundbreaking."