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Denver Health Extends Hand to Kids

DENVER -- Denver Health, already the region's second-busiest children's hospital, this week opened a specialized pediatric-only emergency and urgent-care facility that will handle everything from life-threatening car accidents to broken bones.

The 19-bed center features its own dedicated ambulance entrance, colorful decor as well as specialized doctors and other professionals, including pediatric ophthalmologists, anesthesiologists and child abuse experts.

Part of the reason for the specialized facility is to create a child-friendly environment separate from the tenser environment of Denver Health's main ER waiting room, where the adult patients "tend to present more acute complaints and we see a lot of patients that might be frightening for kids," said Dr. Katie Bakes, head of the Denver Emergency Center for Children.

Denver Health, Colorado's primary "safety net" institution, saw 91,316 emergency department and urgent-care patients last year. The hospital has provided more than $3.1 billion in care for the uninsured since 1991.

Denver Health's ad campaign, with billboards declaring the Denver center as "Newer, Modern, Closer," seems at first glance to be targeting Children's Hospital, which last year moved from downtown to a larger Aurora campus.

But Children's, which has a formal physician-sharing agreement with Denver Health, says it fully supports the new emergency center. Bakes, in fact, works several days a week at Children's as an emergency physician.

"We have a very collaborative relationship and we see this as complementary," said Jim

Shmerling, president and CEO of Children's. "Our missions are so similar in serving the entire population."

Since Children's moved eight miles east to its new $560 million facility last September, the hospital actually has seen a 21 percent increase in the number of patients, for a total of 50,741 in the past 12 months. Nearly half of those patients were from the six-county metro area, according to Children's.

Children's next month will open its fourth regional 2 4/7 emergency care satellite center when it completes work on its Broomfield facility. Children's is ramping up its emergency and urgent-care locations in part because children, much like the adult population, increasingly are using emergency rooms for routine care, Shmerling said.

Children are more broadly covered than adults under the State Children's Health Insurance Program, a federal program designed to cover uninsured children in families with incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid. Even so, both Medicaid and SCHIP are so underfunded that Children's wrote off $50 million in actual costs because of inadequate reimbursements from the programs.

At least one other Denver hospital, HealthOne's Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center, is also bolstering its pediatric services. The hospital already houses an 84-bed pediatric unit and plans a $113 million expansion to build a dedicated 100,000- square-foot facility called Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children at PS/L, slated to open in 2010. The new center will have 170 pediatric beds.

The expansion into children's services among Denver hospitals runs counter to the nationwide trend of medical centers cutting back pediatric care in favor of more lucrative services suchg as orthopedic surgery or executive physicals.

The numbers 21% increase in patients at Children's Hospital since moving to Aurora last year to a total of 50,741 48% of those patients were from the six-county Denver metro area.


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