Children's evolving to meet growing health-care needs

As Seattle Children's Hospital celebrates its first century of service, we are laying the foundation for our next 100 years. We need to expand to fulfill the hospital's mission — to provide the best medical care possible to Pacific Northwest children regardless of a family's ability to pay. We know we must do this in ways that meet the community's needs and respects our neighbors.

We are proud to provide the best pediatric medical care. For instance, Children's survival rates for many forms of cancer are higher than the national average and at over 90 percent in some cases. This is something I could not have imagined when I began my career in medicine some 30 years ago.

Our goal is to realize these results in all areas of the hospital. To achieve this, Children's must evolve, expanding on our main campus and across the Puget Sound region to respond to national and local trends in pediatric care.

The need for children's health care is growing across the nation. A recent study published by the Child Health Corporation of America reported that the overall inpatient days for pediatric diseases are estimated to grow at 3.1 percent annually through 2010.

Specific diseases like neonatology, transplantation, infectious diseases and endocrinology are growing even faster — at above 3.5 percent a year. Diabetes admissions increased nearly 17 percent between 2000 and 2003.

These types of illnesses are complex and require more frequent and longer hospital stays, impacting the number of beds now required in children's hospitals. We are no exception.

If we look forward 20 years, Children's existing 250-bed hospital in Seattle's Laurelhurst neighborhood would need to grow to 500 to 600 beds based both on our estimates and on the national projected growth figures.

Here at Children's, where we serve patients from Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, we are experiencing an even higher growth rate than national trends. Our ambulatory-care building, which opened in 2006, is already at capacity. Our outpatient visits have grown 11 percent over the past four years. This resulted in an increase of 5,000 visits between 2005 and 2006.

Recruiting 85 new physicians over the next five years should help us address our growth, but we'll need somewhere to put these doctors. Our growing clinic activity will lead to more inpatient admissions. In addition, 100 of our 250 existing beds are in double rooms. To provide the best quality care, we, like other top pediatric hospitals, seek to treat our patients in single-patient rooms for infection control, privacy, comfort and the ability to better involve families in patient care.

We understand that our need to grow affects the community, especially the Laurelhurst neighborhood. We are already working with the broader community to move services beyond the main campus. And we are working directly with our Laurelhurst neighbors to answer their concerns.

We are moving almost all of our research functions to South Lake Union, where we are building a world-class research institution. Research conducted at Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute will drive cures and treatments — ultimately laying the foundation for new standards in pediatric care.

We are also preparing to build outpatient pediatric medical centers on the Eastside, in Snohomish County and in South King County. These will provide outpatient surgeries and outpatient urgent care, and offer up to 15 pediatric specialty services, such as cardiology, endocrinology and neurology — enabling Children's to better provide services in outlying areas closer to where families live and work.

But, for the sickest children in our region, we must modernize our Laurelhurst campus. We anticipate the need to approximately double the size of our existing inpatient facility over the next 15 to 20 years.

Medical technology is evolving rapidly, leading to better outcomes for patients. But these technologies increasingly require state-of-the-art facilities — and space.

Complex cases involve medical teams of highly skilled physicians, nurses, technicians and supporting staff. Dispersing these teams to distant sites would be highly inefficient and costly.

Children's is still at the outset of planning our growth for the future. We are embarking on a formal process with our neighbors and the city of Seattle to develop a new major institution master plan. It will outline the parameters for growth over the next 15 to 20 years. We realize those living near our main campus have legitimate concerns about issues like traffic and noise.

It will be a challenging process. However, we have little choice but to undertake it together. Our children deserve nothing less.

Dr. Thomas Hansen is chief executive officer of Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.

Dr. Thomas Hansen, right, and researcher Charles Smith admire the view from Children's new research institute at Ninth Avenue and Stewart Street. (KEN LAMBERT / THE SEATTLE TIMES)