Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital solidifies its position as one of the best in the U.S. and expands its footprint regionally.
photograph by Larry Kuzniewski
When the 2013–2014 U.S. News and World Report Best Children’s Hospital rankings appeared in June, it was no surprise for Memphians to find that Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital had once again scored within the top 50 hospitals in five specialties: Cardiology and Heart Surgery, Nephrology, Neurology and Neurosurgery, Pulmonology, and Urology. Even those who have never visited the sparkling $340 million heart-topped tower know that Le Bonheur has a superior reputation. But those rankings don’t come easily. The consistent excellence of more than 2,000 doctors, nurses, technicians, and other staff and administrators make it happen.
“This year has been a great year,” says Meri Armour, president and CEO of Le Bonheur since 2007. “In 2013, we’ve seen continued growth in referrals and in key service lines: cardiology, neuroscience, trauma, and orthopedics. The regional community depends on Le Bonheur to be available and reliable.”
While Le Bonheur is nationally recognized as an innovator in several fields, Memphis and the Mid-South region are the hospital’s priority. Pediatric primary care in many parts of the city continues to be a problem. However, says Armour, “This year we have worked to solidify smaller practices that are challenged by new healthcare regulations, especially in neighborhoods where pediatric access is limited for those families dependent on TennCare, in North Memphis, the Medical Center area, and soon in South Memphis.”
Another newer initiative to get pediatric care to families who need it is Le Bonheur On the Move, a mobile clinic that visits five rural West Tennessee counties, providing affordable services to the children there. The program started in 2012, and in 2013 a $490,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services–Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of Primary Health Care, was secured for a second mobile clinic to serve more than 4,000 children in nine Memphis public and charter schools where 75 percent of the students are TennCare eligible.
Le Bonheur’s expansion continues in East Memphis, as well, Armour says. “During 2014 and 2015, we are planning to open a large outpatient facility at the site of the current West Clinic on Humphreys Boulevard. And in November,” she continues, “we are breaking ground on a new parking garage building at the main hospital,” a welcome addition to the Adams Avenue campus.
Le Bonheur is also in the midst of executing a regional strategy across the tri-state area. “We continue to expand access to cities outside of Memphis,” Armour says, “specifically Tupelo, Mississippi; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Jackson, Tennessee, working closely with caregivers and families in those communities and giving them access to our specialists.”
Le Bonheur strives to serve the larger community by combating the biggest healthcare problems facing children in the region — obesity, asthma, and special needs — with both clinical care and research. “Obesity, in particular, requires a family centered approach,” says Armour. In January Dr. Joan Han will be joining the Le Bonheur and University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) faculty to develop and lead a comprehensive pediatric obesity research and clinical program. Han comes to Le Bonheur from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Maryland, where her clinical studies focus on patients with genetic disorders that are associated with childhood obesity.
In addition to Han, 20 other new faculty have been hired over the past year, notably Dr. John Bissler from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, who joined Le Bonheur and UTHSC this fall as the chief of Pediatric Nephrology and director of the Tuberous Sclerosis Center of Excellence. Bissler is widely known as one of the country’s top nephrologists, with a national following. “We are pleased to have been able to recruit such talented physicians from some of the best institutions in the country,” says Armour.
As Le Bonheur faces changing healthcare regulations and the uncertainty of state Medicaid expansion, for Armour there is no doubt that the hospital will continue to provide excellent care. “Our patient satisfaction scores have been better than average for the last nine years, around 82–84 percent,” she says. “We are surviving new rate quotas [as part of the Affordable Care Act], and we are hopeful that Governor Bill Haslam will expand Medicaid in Tennessee. That will be great for our community. We are trying hard to serve the underserved. Children’s care is unique. We only have them for a short time, so we have to make a difference quickly. We have the chance to prevent so much, but there has to be access for all children.”