October 2, 2018

On September 21, Texas Children’s Hospital hosted His Excellency Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, president of Botswana, along with his family and members of his delegation. President Masisi met with clinical and executive leaders at Texas Children’s for a luncheon and tour to discuss pressing health care issues facing Botswana. The gathering also served as an opportunity to assess the progress we have made together to help combat pediatric illnesses in his country, including HIV/AIDS, cancer and hematologic diseases.

“I must begin by giving a very direct word of appreciation and thanks to Texas Children’s and Bristol-Myers Squibb, for you might not fully comprehend what you did for a whole nation state and civilization,” President Masisi said during his opening remarks at the luncheon held in Peterkin Board Room. “The government and people of Botswana will remain forever grateful for your generous response to our urgent appeal during literally our darkest and most perilous hour at the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. When we thought all else was lost, your generosity, your humanity, your assistance among others brought smiles to many of our families, and the nation at large.”

With the generous support of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatric AIDS Initiative at Texas Children’s Hospital (BIPAI) began working in Botswana in 2001. They started out small, training doctors and nurses, and testing and treating children with HIV. They then went big in 2003, building the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Centre of Excellence, a Centre of Excellence where state-of-the-art HIV/AIDs care is administered to children.

“It’s been a blessing to be in partnership with the Ministry of Health, and with the government of Botswana in absolutely everything we’ve done,” said Dr. Mark W. Kline, president and founder of BIPAI, physician-in-chief of Texas Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “It really has changed the world for hundreds of thousands of children across the African continent and around the world.”

The goal of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Texas Children’s, BIPAI and the Ministries of Health, Kline explained, is to implement the same principles that have been applied to HIV/AIDS to the treatment of cancer among African children, who for decades have not received the life-saving therapy they need and deserve.

In the United States, where there are 15,000 cases of pediatric cancer a year, 80 percent of children survive and most have a very good quality of life, statistics show. In Sub-Saharan Africa, of the more than 100,000 children who develop pediatric cancer each year, 90 percent die.

View photos below from His Excellency Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi, president of Botswana’s visit.

Dr. David Poplack, director of Global HOPE (Hematology-Oncology Pediatric Excellence) and associate director of Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, said the discrepancy and inequity these statistics represent are intolerable, and are why the Global HOPE cancer program – a partnership between Texas Children’s Hospital, BIPAI and Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, along with the Ministries of Health in six sub-Saharan African countries, including Botswana – are working to correct it.

“Africa is now poised to make major advances in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” Poplack said. “Based on our experience in the United States, we know what is possible, and we know what it takes to achieve success. We believe Botswana now has a similar opportunity to dramatically improve childhood cancer treatment and care; not only in Botswana, but across the continent.”

To help accomplish this, Global HOPE is working with the Ministry of Health to establish a Center of Excellence in pediatric care in Botswana as well as a pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship training program that will make Botswana a hub for training across Southern Africa. Centers of Excellence also are being established in Malawi and Uganda as part of the Global HOPE program.

Global HOPE was created in February 2017 as a $100 million initiative to create an innovative pediatric hematology-oncology treatment network in sub-Saharan Africa. The program already is making great strides, treating more than 1,000 patients, training 369 health care professionals, and graduating the first class of physician fellows enrolled in the first Pediatric Hematology Oncology Fellowship Program in East Africa.

“Our relationship with Botswana has spanned 15 years, a long time, and was the inception point of Texas Children’s global work in Africa,” said President and CEO Mark Wallace. “We look forward to continuing our extraordinary partnership for many, many years to come and know that your focus on innovation and continuing to create a higher standard of excellence for health care for your country will impact the quality of life for the people of Botswana for generations to come.”

Discussions about these efforts continued throughout the evening at an event at the St. Regis Hotel where leaders from Houston, throughout the United States and Botswana gathered to celebrate the incredible work underway.

Click here for more information on Global HOPE.

September 10, 2018

On September 11, Texas Children’s opened its 12th urgent care clinic, the second of which is located near a Texas Children’s Emergency Center.

The recently opened urgent care is located next to the Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus Emergency Center to help manage the Emergency Center’s low-acuity patient population and to serve patients and families in the West Houston area. The care team includes front office staff, nurses and clinical support staff, and board certified pediatricians and pediatric-focused advanced practice providers.

At 4,250 square feet, the clinic has 11 exam rooms, an X-ray room, and a spacious waiting area covered in murals, providing a relaxing, child-friendly atmosphere.

“A strong collaboration between this Urgent Care and the Emergency Center is going to be critical,” said Sara Montenegro, assistant vice President at West Campus. “It has been great so far as we have simulated ahead of time and practiced best and worst case scenarios to make sure we are as prepared as possible.”

This collaboration with the Emergency Center offers a quicker and less expensive option for low-acuity patients. To be seen at the clinic, patients can go directly there or be transferred from the Emergency Center after being assessed. If they are transferred, patients and their family members will be escorted to the clinic’s location.

“We are very excited to be out here at West Campus,” said Gary Macleod, the clinic’s director of clinical operations. “Hospital-based urgent cares are always really exciting for us. The ability to work hand-in-hand with the hospital makes us more effective.”

The West Campus Urgent Care is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. The “Save My Spot” feature, which allows patient families to reserve a time slot at the clinic from the comfort of their own home, is live and wait times are also posted on the website so families know how long it will be before they are seen. Electronic check in is also available to expedite the registration process and potentially aid in lowering wait times.

“Our mantra is to ensure that patients are getting the right care, at the right place at the right time, and with us specifically, at the right cost,” said Roula Zoghbi Smith, director of Business Operations for the Urgent Care. “The urgent care is typically a more cost effective option for families, than seeking care in the Emergency Center, which is always appreciated.”

For more information about Texas Children’s Urgent Care and its locations, click here.

On Tuesday, September 25, Texas Children’s No. 1 ranked Heart Center will open in Legacy Tower. To prepare for this historic milestone, multidisciplinary teams recently conducted simulations in the cardiovascular intensive care unit and cardiovascular operating room to test out the new patient care spaces before real patients are seen.

“Today, we are doing systems testing in our cardiovascular intensive care unit,” said Dr. Cara Doughty, medical director of Texas Children’s Simulation Center. “During these simulations, we have a number of different patients both receiving care as well as receiving escalations in care that can happen in the intensive care unit.”

In addition to multidisciplinary staff, patient families from Texas Children’s Family Advisory Committee participated in the CVICU simulations and provided their perspective on how much this space is going to change the way that care is provided to heart patients and their families at Legacy Tower.

“It’s really nice and comforting to me as a parent to see how much thought goes into it,” said Texas Children’s Family Advisory Committee member Christine Hanes. “I know that they aren’t just making a random decision on how to take care of my child. They’re actually testing it and making sure that they follow all the right procedures and that they do everything to optimize their care.”

Following the CVICU simulations, Texas Children’s conducted patient care simulations in the CVOR to test the system, the work flow processes, the placement of surgical equipment, as well as test the communication among multidisciplinary teams to ensure everyone and everything is ready before the first CVOR in Legacy Tower.

“For the CVOR, we had one patient but that patient was going through all of the different aspects of being a patient from registration to preoperative care to arrival to being in the operating room,” Doughty said.

Following each simulation, a one-hour debrief was held where staff from different disciplines came together to discuss what went well and what system processes need to be corrected before actual patients are seen.

“We want to make sure we’re well prepared, that the space is in tip top shape to be able to provide what we need for these critical patients,” said Kerry Sembera, assistant director of clinical practice for the Heart Center.

In preparation for the opening of Texas Children’s No. 1 ranked Heart Center on September 25, a series of systems testing was also conducted last month for acute care cardiology, the Heart Center Clinic and the Cath lab/HCRU.

Employees and staff can see more of Legacy Tower on Connect throughout the month. Texas Children’s Corporate Communications Team will feature a series of stories and videos on Connect promoting the Heart Center and sharing how we are preparing for this historic move into Legacy Tower.

August 27, 2018

At Texas Children’s, we feel strongly that it is our responsibly to educate patients about the health plans we are in network with and how they can access our expert care. Therefore, we want to make sure Amerigroup members are aware that Texas Children’s is not a participating provider with Amerigroup. Those patients have the right to change health plans to ensure continuity of care.

Amerigroup currently insures 9,500 past and present Texas Children’s patients under Amerigroup STAR, Amerigroup STAR Plus, Amerigroup STAR Kids, or Amerigroup Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plan.

To make sure these patients receive uninterrupted access to care at Texas Children’s, we are recommending they change their coverage to a health plan that Texas Children’s is in-network with. As an eligible STAR, STAR Plus, STAR Kids, or CHIP plan member, they have a choice in the plan they select for coverage. They also have the right to change plans.

“We have been treating these patients out-of-network for the past five years hoping Amerigroup would work with us to either become an in-network provider or educate their customers about the options available to them,” said Kabby Thompson, director of managed care contracting. “It is clear that’s not going to happen. We feel it is in our patients’ best interest to educate them about the plans we are in network with and to help them transition into an in-network plan if that’s how they want to move forward.”

A similar plan of action worked well last November when Texas Children’s became an out of network provider to 6,000 Molina members. More than half have switched to an in-network plan.

A letter has been sent to patient families who have been a Texas Children’s patient within the past year and whose records say they are covered by Amerigroup. Depending on your role at Texas Children’s, you could receive questions from patient families and others about this change. Below is information to help you answer those questions and to places to direct people if you cannot.

“We appreciate your help in getting these patients and families the help they need,” Thompson said. “Their health care is important to us.”

Click here to access the information below and more.

How can Amerigroup patients and families change their health plans?

For Amerigroup STAR, Amerigroup STAR Kids and Amerigroup STAR Plus members: The Texas Medicaid program allows people to change their or their child’s health plan.

  • Patients and their families can learn more by calling the Texas STAR Program Helpline at 1-800-964-2777.
  • Patients and families can request to change their health plan at any time for any reason. If they call to change their health plan on or before the 15th of the month, the change will take place on the first day of the next month.
  • If they call after the 15th of the month, the change will take place the first day of the second month after that. For example:
    • If they call on or before October 15, their change will take place on November 1.
    • If they call after October 15, their change will take place on December 1.

For Amerigroup CHIP members: The Texas Medicaid program allows patients and their families to change their or their child’s health plan.

  • Patients and families can learn more by calling CHIP toll-free at 1-800-647-6558.
  • During the first 90 days after they or their child are enrolled in a health plan, they can change to another plan once for any reason.
  • If they show good cause, they can also change health plans at any time. An example of “good cause” is when they or their child can’t get the care you need through the health plan. An inadequate network or a change in the network status of their treating provider is also considered “good cause.”
  • They can also change health plans during the annual CHIP reenrollment period.

The Texas Medicaid program allows patients and families to change their or their child’s health plan every 30 days. They can learn more about how to do this and begin to make the change by calling the Texas STAR Program Helpline at 1-800-964-2777 (STAR or STAR Plus) or CHIP toll-free at 1-800-647-6558.

Questions patients and families might have about care at Texas Children’s:

As an out of network member, will patients still be able to receive care at Texas Children’s Hospital?

Rescheduling: In cases where Amerigroup has not responded to requests for both out-of-network authorizations and Single Case Agreements before the scheduled visit, Texas Children’s will contact patients/their families before their scheduled visit to reschedule once Amerigroup has responded.

Emergency Medical Care: Amerigroup advises that you go to an in-network provider for emergency care. Texas Children’s Hospital will treat children in the event they have an emergency. If a child is seen in the Emergency Center for emergency care, the medical team will work with the patient and their family to decide how to provide care after the doctor’s medical evaluation. Amerigroup will help find follow up care with a provider who is in network.

Urgent Medical Care: In order to receive urgent care at a Texas Children’s Urgent Care location, Amerigroup must approve an out-of-network authorization. This could be difficult because of the urgent nature of a patient’s condition and the time it takes to get an authorization. Amerigroup may also redirect care to another in-network provider.

Routine Care: In most cases, Amerigroup will require patients and their families to receive routine or urgent care from a network provider. In order to receive care at Texas Children’s, Amerigroup must approve an out-of-network. Amerigroup may also redirect care to another in-network provider.

Who should I contact if I have further questions?

If you want to learn more about changing your or your child’s health plan, you can call the Texas STAR Program Helpline at 1-800-964-2777 or CHIP toll-free at 1-800-647-6558.

If you have questions for Amerigroup, you may call their Member Services department toll-free at 1-800-964-2777. If you are not satisfied with the response from Amerigroup, you can contact the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) by calling toll-free 1-866-566-8989.

If you have questions for Texas Children’s Hospital or Texas Children’s Physician Services Organization, you may call us at 832-824-1000 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central time. Texas Children’s Pediatrics can be reached at 832-824-2999.

What Medicaid Health Plans is Texas Children’s in-network with?

Texas Children’s Hospital and Texas Children’s Physician Service Organization are in-network with the following Medicaid Health Plans

Texas Children’s Pediatrics is in-network with the following Medicaid Health Plans

Five years ago Texas Children’s Health Plan celebrated the grand opening of The Center for Children and Women, a patient and family-centered medical home for Health Plan members. Now with two locations, one 50,000 square-foot facility located in the Greenspoint area of Houston, and another in the Southwest area, the center has flourished and continues to provide high quality community based primary health care.

“It is actually unbelievable, frankly. Going from a concept to what we have today, and being able to serve so many patients and members and families of Texas Children’s Health Plan,” said Assistant Vice President Tangula Taylor. “It is humbling, quite honestly, just to think about the impact that we’ve been able to make on the lives of so many.”

The Center for Children and Women is designed to ensure that all patients have access to proper care by providing extended hours to accommodate the families’ busy schedules. The Center’s health care model provides comprehensive care for the well-being of the whole patient. This is done with the help of many medical professionals on site every day such as pediatricians, advance nurse practitioners, OB/GYNs, certified nurse midwives, optometry, imaging, a laboratory and an onsite pharmacy, and behavioral health specialists. The medical home provides a means to address the shortage of primary medical care for families enrolled in government health care programs.

“The idea was really to create a comprehensive one stop shop for health care,” Taylor said. “We know that families that we serve have precious time, and when they come in seeking healthcare, we wanted to be able to maximize the time we have with them and bring forth a holistic approach to address all of their care needs in that moment.”

On August 17, the Center celebrated its anniversary with a party open to the community. The event included ice cream and cake, face painting, information booths and goody bags. During the celebration employees gathered along with a patient who was brought into this world by Center providers and has been a patient at the Center for the last five years. The group sang a special birthday song as she and her sister blew out candles.

“It’s like the Center has become part of our family. We come here for everything,” said Ivonne Solis, mother of the patients. “There are days when I feel like I spend the whole day here because one has a dentist appointment, the other is seeing the eye doctor and the other has a general checkup. And I know if she gets sick at school, for example, they see us quickly.”

Across the room enjoying the celebration with her children was Yesenia Cervantes, a former patient of the Center. For Cervantes, the phrase “you will like it so much you will not want to leave” can’t be more accurate. Today, she works as a patient access specialist at the Greenspoint location.

“The first time that I had my appointment I really loved my care, so then I said, I have to be part of this, of the Center,” said Cervantes. “I would love to work with the people here and I would like to be part of this organization.”

Cervantes is just one of the many patients who has experienced first-rate care at the Center. Over the course of five years the Center’s membership has gained over 35,000 distinct patients and nearly 400,000 total visits.

“It was our intention when we opened to grow the Centers to a point where they were completely sustainable, and we have been able to do that,” said Medical Director for Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dr. Lisa Hollier. “And in the process, we are delivering on better outcomes for women and children.”

The Center has received several awards and recognitions since it opened such as; The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) Level III Recognition four years in a row. The Center is NCQA Patient Centered Medical Home (PCMH) and Patient Centered Specialty Practice (PCSP) recognized. The Center for Children and Women was the first OB/GYN practice in Texas to receive PCSP designation. In addition, the Center is COLA Certified for clinical laboratory compliance and received COLA’s Laboratory Excellence Award and acknowledged by Centering Healthcare Institute as an accredited Centering Pregnancy site, to name a few.

“I see this center continuing to grow and serve the Greenspoint and Southwest communities, but I of course see a third center, a fourth and fifth and a six,” said Chief Medical Officer for Pediatrics, Dr. Heidi Schwarzwald. “Not just in the Houston area, but across our state, serving the needs of Medicaid families.”

With 11 total service lines, the Center for Children and Women has exceeded initial expectations and continues to serve patients with the highest quality care possible with a focus on healthy mothers, healthy babies and children, and healthy communities.

“We are very proud of what we have accomplished in the past five years, and the support we have received at The Center for Children and Women from the community has been energizing,” Lou Fragoso, president of Texas Children’s Health Plan, said. “We know the incredible impact The Center has on helping families stay healthy—it is a privilege to serve our plan members in the Greenspoint and Southwest Houston areas. As we cross this milestone, we are committed to continuing to expand access to the highest quality primary care possible for our plan members.”

View a photo gallery of pictures from the event below.

For more information about Texas Children’s Health Plan The Center for Children and Women visit www.JoinTheCenter.org.


Fetal surgeon and Ob-Gyn-in-chief Dr. Michael Belfort is often reunited with his patients, but the recent meeting he had with Sam Hancock was extra special. The teenager and his family made their way from Utah to Houston to meet Belfort, who saved Sam’s life before he was even born. The meeting was Sam’s 18th birthday wish and his parents, Alisa and Dennis, were happy to accommodate as Belfort’s name holds a high regard in their home.

“As a family, we are so grateful for Dr. Belfort,” Alisa said. “He deserves the credit for the skill and knowledge that gave Sam a chance at life.”

When Alisa was pregnant with Sam nearly two decades ago, an ultrasound showed severe swelling of her son’s neck. Doctors told her and Dennis their baby likely had a very serious condition and would not survive.

Later in her pregnancy, doctors noticed fluid building up in Sam’s chest cavity and told her there was no hope. That’s when the family found Belfort, who was practicing in Utah at the time and gave them the option of having fetal surgery. Belfort placed a shunt into Sam’s chest in hopes that fluid being produced would drain from his chest into the amniotic sac, relieving the pressure on his developing heart and lungs. The shunt worked for a short time, but then stopped. Belfort made a second attempt and it was successful in draining the fluid and taking the pressure off Sam’s heart and lungs.

Sam was delivered two months early as Alisa went into early labor because of extra fluid in her amniotic sac, a condition called polyhydramnios, which stretches the uterus making it extremely large. Despite several attempts to decrease the amount of fluid, labor could not be stopped.

Sam spent three months in the neonatal intensive care unit and underwent another surgery to place drains in his chest to relieve excess fluid. When he was discharged, Sam was on oxygen. At 2 years old, he was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a condition where the skull bones are fused and cause a misshapen head. To correct the condition and to relieve pressure on his brain, Sam underwent yet another surgery.

Despite a rough start in life, Sam is a fighter. Though he battled some academic delays earlier in life, he worked hard to overcome his challenges and recently graduated with a 3.5 GPA and earned his Eagle Scout award. When asked what he wanted for his 18th birthday, he said he wanted to come to Houston to see Belfort, and to thank him for saving his life and never giving up on him.

“There are no words to express what I’m feeling right now,” Sam said after shaking Belfort’s hand and grinning ear to ear. “I am so happy to be here.”

Belfort said meeting back up with Sam and his family was a real treat and that he had never forgotten them.

“It was an unusual procedure at that time,” Belfort said of the operation he did on Sam more almost two decades ago. “I’m really glad it worked out. Sam is a delightful young man.”

During his visit to Houston, Belfort gave Sam and his family a tour of Texas Children’s Hospital and introduced them to Texas Children’s President and CEO Mark Wallace, who was so honored to meet Sam he personally sang Happy Birthday to the teenager.

After talking to Sam about his hopes and dreams, Wallace told him about his 10 leadership maxims and encouraged him to come up with his own personal definition of leadership.

“Now that you are 18, you are old enough to have your own definition of leadership,” Wallace said. “That definition should reflect you, your personality and your beliefs.”

Sam, who is looking forward to the next journey in his life and will soon be looking for a job, promised Wallace he would work on coming up with his personal definition of leadership and share it with him soon.

August 13, 2018

Creating viable, long-term health care solutions for children and mothers worldwide has always been a part of Texas Children’s mission. To further that charge, a new division has been created within the Department of Surgery – the Division of Global Surgery. The division will be led by Dr. Jed Nuchtern, who has been Texas Children’s chief of Pediatric Surgery since 2012.

“This is a wonderful new opportunity for Texas Children’s Hospital, the Department of Surgery and Dr. Nuchtern, said Surgeon-in-Chief Dr. Larry Hollier. “Providing surgical expertise in underserved areas has been a great passion for Dr. Nuchtern, and he has traveled extensively bringing surgical care to children around the world. I would like to thank him for his continued commitment to patient care and surgical excellence.”

Through Global Health programs, Texas Children’s collaborates with international governments and health organizations to share its expertise and best practices, with a strong focus on sustainability. This collaboration includes providing surgical training and direct care and treatment in many underserved nations, such as Argentina, Haiti, Malawi, Mexico, Pakistan, Tanzania and Uganda. Due to lack of resources, facilities, education and support, surgical interventions thought of as routine here in the United States, such as repairing a broken bone or simply suturing a wound, are difficult to perform and thus much less common in these countries. A more complicated procedure like a C-section becomes altogether life-threatening.

The creation of the new Division of Global Surgery will help Texas Children’s forge new partnerships, offer providers opportunities for exposure, and facilitate care and capacity building to improve the lives of children and women across the globe, beginning in sub-Saharan Africa.

Leveraging resources, infrastructure and successful global medical programs already in place in the region – including Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) Network, Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers’ Global HOPE (Hematology Oncology Pediatric Excellence), and existing efforts by the Department of OB/GYN – Nuchtern and his team will first focus on surgical care for pediatric cancer patients, 50 percent of which require some form of surgical intervention, to increase surgical capacity. Ultimately, the approach will have the combined effect of improving care of children with cancer as well as those suffering from other pediatric surgical diseases.

“While the initial focus is on cancer surgery, our approach is to help build capacity in children’s surgery overall,” Nuchtern said. “Our goal is to marshal all of the talent and energy of Texas Children’s department of surgery toward the goal of serving children throughout the world.”

Preliminary objectives include identifying individuals interested in participating, working with partners to develop the infrastructure necessary to provide quality care, and organizing a special group tasked with developing training opportunities, a central focus of this initiative. Building on successes and lessons learned, and through continued collaboration with Global HOPE, the long-term vision includes a surgical facility for women and children in Lilongwe, Malawi, expansion of care capacity in Central America, and, ultimately, recognition for Texas Children’s as a leader in global surgical outreach.

“We’re one family, and this is a team effort that requires substantial perioperative support from nursing, anesthesia, pediatrics, radiology and pathology,” Hollier said. “Dr. Nuchtern and the new Division of Global Surgery will coordinate with all hospital services to ensure that Texas Children’s is well-represented when going abroad and that these children and women receive the best possible care.”

Nuchtern will retain his duties as chief of Pediatric Surgery until a successor is found. A national search is currently underway. Pediatric Surgery at Texas Children’s has grown to include outstanding programs in surgical oncology, surgical critical care, colorectal and pelvic health, and basic science research. The GI Surgery program has consistently been recognized as one of the top five children’s hospital programs for GI & GI Surgery in U.S. News & World Report. Under Nuchtern’s leadership, the division also has received national and international acclaim for the separation of conjoined twins’ cases and many cutting-edge fetal surgeries. Additionally, the Trauma program was re-designated as a Level I trauma center and has expanded educational offerings to the state and region.