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Children's Hospital Colorado would be partner in Memorial lease

By: ANDREW WINEKE
January 6, 2012
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photo - Children's Hospital Colorado CEO Jim Shmerling Photo by Children's Hospital Colorado
Children's Hospital Colorado CEO Jim Shmerling Photo by Children's Hospital Colorado 

University of Colorado Hospital is the headliner on the proposed lease for Memorial Health System, but Children’s Hospital Colorado is on the card, too.

Under University Hospital’s proposal, Children’s Hospital Colorado would sublet all of Memorial’s pediatric beds, about 100, and provide all of those services. Financial terms of that agreement have not been set yet. Children’s Hospital Colorado already runs similar, albeit smaller, programs in several Denver-area hospitals.

Memorial has had a pediatric program almost since its beginning — it’s celebrating the program’s 100th anniversary this year — and has had a distinct children’s hospital since 2004.

But Memorial Hospital for Children has been a contentious issue in recent years, after many pediatric specialists were fired in 2008 and local pediatricians rebelled at what they saw as gutting of the children’s hospital. Those relationships have gradually been repaired, with Memorial adding several pediatric specialists and hiring local pediatric cardiologist Dr. Mark Duster as medical director last year.

Children’s CEO Jim Shmerling, however, argues that his hospital’s experience, reputation and financial commitment can do more to advance the care of children in southern Colorado than the Memorial Hospital for Children has been able to do on its own.

“It’s a service line within an adult hospital, it’s not a hospital” itself, Shmerling said of Memorial Hospital for Children. “As a (children’s) hospital, we’re strictly focused on those patients.”

Colorado Springs pediatrician Dr. Harry Anderson has been one of the most vocal advocates for children’s services at Memorial and, at times, one of the hospital’s greatest critics. He sees great possibilities for the Children’s Hospital Colorado partnership and says most local pediatricians are supporting the deal.

“I think they can do a lot more than we can on our own,” Anderson said, citing Children’s Hospital’s status as a teaching hospital as one bonus.

Children’s Hospital Colorado has a long standing relationship with Memorial. At one point, they had a formal partnership, which was later found to violate the city’s rules and reformulated as an affiliation agreement.

Children’s Hospital Colorado also already employs 10 physicians in Colorado Springs and is refitting a 50,000 square foot office in Briargate to centralize those doctors that is scheduled to open in June.

Duster is already on staff at Children’s Hospital Colorado and practices there several times a month. He said there is great potential for the partnership, but also some mistrust, particularly among pediatric specialists such as ear, nose and throat doctors who may see Children’s as a new competitor.

“There is a limited number of subspecialty cases,” Duster said. “The question is, who is going to be taking the tonsils out for kids in Colorado Springs?”

Shmerling said that kind of concern is only natural for a new arrangement.

“It’s a leap of faith,” Shmerling said. “We understand that.”

Anderson says he’s optimistic about the partnership.

“I may be pollyanna about this,” he said, “but I’ve been very pessimistic in the past.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado will make it easier to recruit pediatric specialists to Colorado Springs, because of its reputation and the stability it offers, Shmerling said. And having a large physician base in Denver will also make it easier to rotate doctors to Colorado Springs to cover any gaps in services, he said.

“It gives much greater depth of coverage,” Shmerling said.

Memorial Hospital for Children could grow locally while also extending its reach into southern Colorado and New Mexico, Shmerling said.

“Any time we plant a flag, it seems to attract patients,” he said. “About 61 percent of the children in hospital beds across the state are in a children’s bed, so there is some additional growth just locally.”

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