May 20, 2019

“I’m excited every day I walk into Legacy Tower,” said Dr. Lara Shekerdemian, service chief of Critical Care Services at Texas Children’s. “It is a wonderful environment to work in. Our patients and their families are very happy with their new spaces, and we are very privileged to be in our new home.”

It’s been one year since Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower opened its doors for the first time to care for our most critically ill patients at Texas Children’s Medical Center campus. And, in that short period of time, our patients and their families have noticed a positive difference since moving into the new tower.

“The rooms here are very cozy and very spacious,” said Eleonor Caparas, whose daughter is a PICU patient at Texas Children’s. “We have our own space here and we can stay together with my baby. I like it because I experienced the old PICU on the third floor of West Tower, and it is so different now.”

Randy Bowen, a PICU nurse at Texas Children’s for more than 25 years, recalls when critical care moved from the Abercrombie Building to West Tower. He says the move into Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower has been a huge game changer in the delivery of patient care.

“Coming into this space now, supplies us with so much flexibility and the availability of resources to provide the patient care that we’ve always excelled at doing,” Bowen said. “But I think now we’re exceeding that and it’s just been exciting be part of the whole process.”

Since Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower opened on May 22, 2018, Texas Children’s critical care, cardiology, surgical and radiology teams have been very busy caring for our hospital’s sickest patients.

To date, the new tower has had 3,839 patient admissions in the pediatric and cardiac intensive care units. More than 9,000 patients have received care at Lester and Sue Smith Legacy Tower’s outpatient Heart Center clinics, and over 700 catheterization and 239 intraoperative MRI procedures have been performed here.

A total of 3,455 surgeries have been completed in the tower’s state-of-the-art surgical and cardiovascular operating rooms, totaling 13,921 surgical hours. Since the tower’s helipad opened last November, Texas Children’s has had 123 landings, allowing for greater access to Texas Children’s for the sickest patients.

“We have everything under one roof to take care of all of the sickest children,” said Texas Children’s Surgeon-in-Chief Larry Hollier. “All of the diagnostic capability, the OR capability, the interventional radiology capability and then the ICU care. After visiting all of the leading children’s hospitals across the country, I can say without a doubt, no other children’s hospital has something like Legacy Tower.”

 

The nation’s top medical experts, hospital executives, pediatricians and community health leaders recently convened at Texas Children’s Hospital for U.S. News & World Report’s “Combatting Childhood Obesity” summit, addressing one of the nation’s most critical health issues.

Visiting guests were welcomed by Texas Children’s Physician-in Chief Dr. Mark Kline, who also spoke about the challenges posed by childhood obesity.

“For some time, clinicians have struggled with how to deal with obesity in a holistic and comprehensive manner,” he said. “We hope the work done here will facilitate healthy discussion and help shine light on how best to confront this ever-growing problem.”

The summit was held as part of a two-year commitment by U.S. News to put a spotlight on the nation’s most urgent public health priorities. Obesity has steadily risen as one of the gravest issues in health care: One in five children in the United States is now affected, and nearly one-third are overweight. The estimated annual cost of health care spending directly related to obesity is $149 billion. The purpose of the summit – sponsored by Texas Children’s Hospital – was to raise awareness around childhood obesity and to bring experts together to discuss ways to potentially solve the problem.

Meeting the challenge at Texas Children’s

That Texas Children’s hosted and sponsored a conference around the issue of pediatric obesity is fitting. Currently, around 22,000 children 18 years old or younger who are seen at Texas Children’s are obese, and 8,000 are 5 years old or younger. Obesity is one of the biggest drivers of preventable chronic diseases and in childhood can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol, increased risk of type 2 diabetes, asthma and sleep apnea, and joint problems, not to mention psychological ramifications such as anxiety and depression.

To directly address the problem of obesity in our patients, as well as some of the underlying causes, such as poverty and food insecurity, Texas Children’s included a system-wide body mass index (BMI) goal as part of our Fiscal Year 2019 care quality objectives. The target was to record BMI for 85 percent of the patient population, ages 2 to 19. In addition to recording BMI, a target was set to refer or implement counseling and/or education for more than 40 percent of patients with BMI greater than the 85th percentile.

“Obesity drives significant health outcomes in our patients, so it was extremely important for us to include this in our FY19 quality goals,” said Dr. Heidi Schwarzwald, chief medical officer of Pediatrics for Texas Children’s Health Plan. “By collaborating across the system, and using the electronic medical record, we can provide children and their families with supportive resources and guidance to combat childhood obesity.”

So far this year, Texas Children’s is exceeding those goals. Through March 2019, we’d recorded BMI for more than 87 percent of our patients, and more than 73 percent of those with BMI in the 85th percentile or higher have been referred to or received the resources they need to combat obesity.

Stay tuned for further updates on Texas Children’s obesity goals and other FY19 organizational goals.

May 14, 2019

Online and direct scheduling have become easier at Texas Children’s with the introduction of MyChart, an online patient portal application launched in 2018. To date, thousands of patients have used the free MyChart feature to schedule and manage their appointments, communicate with their doctor, access medical records, obtain lab results and request prescription refills. Learn more by visiting our 2018 virtual Annual Report.

May 6, 2019

Provider Connect gives referring physicians and their staff direct access to our resource team for questions and concerns about referrals or issues accessing or navigating a Texas Children’s service.

Since its launch in January 2019, Texas Children’s has had more than 400 touch points with providers.

The referral resource team at Texas Children’s is comprised of a director, a senior project manager and two access communication specialists who answer the phone. The team also has four members who intake approximately 5,000 referrals each month, equating to 60,000 physician referrals each year.

The team assists with the referral process, updates referring provider contact information and offers support for connecting to Texas Children’s, including accessing EpicCare Link, a provider portal that gives external providers secure, convenient access to Texas Children’s electronic medical record. This web-based tool is free and providers can sign up online.

Click here for more information about EpicCare Link.

April 29, 2019

Dozens of families recently attended the first ever HEAR Houston Resource Fair, presented by Texas Children’s Audiology Program.

HEAR (Hearing Education, Awareness and Resources) Houston – held in collaboration with the Division of Otolaryngology and the Speech, Language and Learning Clinic – was designed to bring families of children living with hearing loss together, and to educate them about some of the numerous resources, programs and services available in the greater Houston area.

“Sometime such tremendous focus is placed on providing the right diagnosis and identifying the right treatment path for a child that is deaf or hard of hearing that care givers might discount the fact that the parents need help too,” said Dr. Wendy Steuerwald, director of Audiology at Texas Children’s. “We wanted to comprehensively highlight resources that both our patients and parents have benefited from, bring them here to Texas Children’s, and give people an opportunity to connect with one another and get the information they need.”

HEAR Houston featured more than a dozen vendors and exhibitors, selected with input from Texas Children’s audiologists and patient families. These vendors offered expertise and guidance on a broad spectrum of interrelated services and resources, including:

  • The latest in hearing aids, cochlear implants and caption telephones
  • Community outreach programs
  • Parent support groups
  • Educational audiology and services in schools
  • Speech-Language therapy
  • Deaf education
  • The transition from pediatric to adult audiology

The event also featured programs at Texas Children’s, including upWORDS – designed to help parents learn how to improve their child’s early language – and the Speech, Language and Learning Clinic, which provides evaluation, management and consultation for infants, children, adolescents and adults who have problems with communication, learning, feeding and swallowing.

The offering of resources was so comprehensive, even the vendors were impressed.

“Texas Children’s staff and physicians provided a wonderful venue for learning what resources are available for children who are deaf or hard of hearing,” said Sara Smith from Guide By Your Side™ – a family support program offered by Texas Hands & Voices™ that pairs families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing with trained parent guides who have walked in their shoes and can share their experiences, as well as direct families to information and resources. “It was truly wonderful to see ‘the village’ coming together – with so many support agencies, technology companies and educational programs present – to ensure each unique child has the opportunity to reach their potential.”

The response has been extremely positive. Plans are already being made to make HEAR Houston an annual event. But one of the most exciting developments is a plan to create a parent support group.

“To feel successful raising a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, parents seek the advice of other parents in similar situations – they want to interact with and learn from them,” Steuerwald said. “Our goal with this event was really to build a community. A support group will allow parents to socialize their children with other children with similar conditions, and it will continue to foster parent-to-parent education and discussion.”

April 22, 2019

Texas Children’s launched online scheduling in English and Spanish to allow current, new, and referred patients to schedule appointments via DocASAP, our online scheduling partner.

After clicking the online scheduling button on Texas Children’s homepage, patients are directed to the new texaschildrens.org/appointment page where they can view all scheduling options available. Patients also can access online scheduling directly from provider profiles and department pages.

Since implementing this feature, over 1,400 appointments have been scheduled online. This online scheduling service is available at Texas Children’s three campuses – Medical Center Campus, West Campus, and The Woodlands Campus – and our specialty care locations in Houston and Austin.

Texas Children’s is the only pediatric hospital of the top five on the U.S. News & World Report Honor Roll to offer this easy and convenient online scheduling tool for patients and their families.

Click here to watch a video tutorial on how to schedule appointments online at Texas Children’s.

About Texas Children’s Patient Access Initiative

Launched in August 2017, Texas Children’s Patient Access Initiative is an on-going, collaborative effort to improve patient access across the organization. Since then, Texas Children’s has made significant progress to ensure patients easily and conveniently get in the door so we can provide the care they need, when they need it.

Click here for a list of other tools and features we’ve implemented across the system to improve access, care coordination and patient experience at Texas Children’s.

April 15, 2019

A brand-new clinic at Texas Children’s West Campus is empowering children with visual impairment to make the most of the sight they have and live more independent lifestyles.

Texas Children’s Vision Enhancement Center – the only pediatric low vision clinic in Houston and one of only a few in the nation – was started this past January to meet the tremendous need for specialty care for children in Greater Houston living with various forms of visual impairment that can’t be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, surgery or medicine.

The clinic, made possible through a generous gift from Kathy and George Bishop, is spearheaded by Texas Children’s pediatric optometrist Dr. Kelsie Morrison and provides children with tools and techniques to maximize their functional vision so they can perform daily tasks and educational activities.

“The Vision Enhancement Center is the product of a partnership between Dr. Morrison, the Eye Care Department at Texas Children’s and our wonderful hospital administrative partners,” said Dr. David Coats, Texas Children’s chief of Ophthalmology. “This great new service provides promise and hope, and I am very proud to be a part of a team that is so committed to helping children with vision impairment live healthy, happier lives.”

The most common causes of visual impairment, or low vision, in children are inherited or congenital eye diseases, such as oculocutaneous albinism, retinal dystrophies (such as retinitis pigmentosa or Stargardt’s disease), retinopathy of maturity, nystagmus, and optic nerve hypoplasia.

These conditions typically cause one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of ability to see detail (visual acuity)
  • Loss of side or peripheral vision (visual field)
  • Constant double vision (diplopia)
  • Inability to navigate steps or the edge of curbs (contrast sensitivity)
  • Inability to distinguish colors

Children with low vision face special challenges in school, where great emphasis is placed on learning in a visual environment.

“The majority of what we learn as children is absorbed visually,” said Morrison. “The conditions that our patients have make it difficult to take in visual input and process it. Our job is to get a baseline measurement of their functional vision and then test different solutions, such as magnification devices or electronic systems, to find the best fit for each individual patient and to improve their quality of life.”

The Vision Enhancement Center administers a complete assessment of visual function, eye health and the visual demands each patient experiences in educational, home and community settings. This initial exam is a critical step in determining how the child uses their vision to function and whether visual aids and other environmental modifications can make daily tasks – such as reading and writing – more comfortable and manageable. To help gain a clearer picture of the child’s needs, teachers, therapists or other health care workers are encouraged to attend appointments if possible.

A review of visual equipment already in use at home and school, as well as of textbooks and school materials, helps the optometrist make suggestions and offer guidance on what other magnification tools may be needed, such as telescopes, magnifiers, electronic systems (e.g., video displays, virtual reality mountings), or special tools to help patients who have difficulty with contrast or glare. Additional guidance may be offered on potential environmental alterations that can be made at home or in the classroom to help maximize the patient’s vision and improve their daily life.

The response from the community has been tremendous. Volume has been high since the clinic’s opening and there are already plans for expanding clinic space.

“The care and healing provided at this clinic have the ability to transform children’s lives,” said Dr. Allen Milewicz, Texas Children’s chief of Community Surgery and chief surgical officer at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus. “These impactful therapies, and the work of dedicated physicians like Dr. Morrison, make me proud to be part of Texas Children’s.”

Learn more about the Vision Enhancement Center and other services provided by Texas Children’s Division of Ophthalmology.