Katy Welkie says Intermountain Healthcare aims to transform the way children are treated both in and out of the hospital.
Intermountain has launched a $600 million campaign aimed at expanding child care and treatment options throughout the system’s service area. Welkie is Vice President of Children’s Health at Intermountain and CEO of Intermountain’s Primary Children’s Hospital, which serves 400,000 square miles. Based in Utah, Intermountain operates 33 hospitals and numerous clinics in the western United States.
“When we started thinking about how to really change the whole of child healthcare and how to create a model for children, we really, really, really thought broadly, both inside the walls of the hospital and outside the walls of the hospital and think more about prevention,” Welkie said.
Dubbed the Primary Promise, Intermountain’s aggressive philanthropic efforts appear to be resonating with donors. To date, the effort has raised more than $500 million, said David Flood, Intermountain’s chief development officer and president of the Intermountain Foundation.
“We’re really excited to see where this goes,” Flood said.
Welkie and Flood spoke up Chief Physician in Health Care on the ambitious plans to expand pediatric care, improve health equity and increase the role of philanthropy for hospitals and health systems. (See excerpts from our conversation with Katy Welkie and David Flood in this interview. The story continues below the video.)
From womb to adulthood
The campaign aims to expand the services of the Primary Children’s Hospital, a 287-bed hospital.
“We really want to make sure we have the absolute best possible care for children who are receiving care and who really need to go to a hospital,” Welkie said.
Intermountain has developed a new fetal center capable of performing complex surgeries while the baby is in the womb. The Children’s Hospital also remodeled the neonatal intensive care unit, along with improved cancer and transplant programs.
In addition, as part of the initiative, Intermountain is expanding its pediatric research, particularly in the field of genomics.
Intermountain also strives to ease the transition into adulthood for children with complex and chronic illnesses, as children are now more likely to survive illnesses that ended their lives before they had a chance to grow into adults.
“We’re looking at the transition from childhood to adulthood of children suffering from complex chronic health conditions,” Welkie said. “And that might seem simple, but it’s actually incredibly complex to switch kids and do it in every single specialty and do it very, very well.”
Intermountain is also building a program for healthy children, helping them overcome negative childhood experiences such as: B. experiencing violence or growing up in families with substance abuse, which can affect their health.
“We want to catch that early on,” she says.
care outside the hospital
Even as Intermountain works to provide more robust and comprehensive services at the Primary Children’s Hospital, the system aims to help children who are not as seriously ill be able to stay in their own communities, officials said.
With expanded telemedicine services, Intermountain can support other hospitals and allow them to keep children in their own facilities without having to take them to Children’s Hospital. Nurses and doctors can call and get additional support from Primary Children’s regarding children in the emergency department.
And if the patient has to go to Children’s Hospital, “it gives them extra eyes and hands to look after the child while they wait for the transport team to arrive,” Welkie said.
Still, she said telemedicine and additional support allows more children to be treated in their own communities, which is better for patients and their families.
“We’ve been able to keep children local more than ever before, and that’s exactly what we want to do,” Welkie said. “It’s not good for Children’s Hospital revenue, but fabulous for the family. It’s fabulous for the local communities. And that’s really why philanthropy makes such a big difference, because we can do the right thing and not really think about the economics.”
With the fundraising effort, Intermountain is also able to sustain a nurse-family partnership program that the system has tried to implement in the past but has been unable to sustain, Welkie said.
The program works with mothers as early as the second trimester, and they stay together until the child is two years old. The nurses visit mothers in their homes to help them with educational and employment needs. Babies are more likely to be healthy, less likely to be born prematurely, and later, children in such programs are more likely to graduate from high school.
“It’s an incredibly powerful program,” Welkie said. “And that’s now part of a series of home visiting programs that we can pull out.”
Intermountain also took a closer look at the social determinants of health, including mapping zip codes and identifying higher-risk communities. “Interestingly, much of the need is in rural communities,” Welkie said.
While the work is in the early stages, Intermountain is looking for partners in those neighborhoods to address factors affecting child mortality and issues such as housing and education, she said.
Intermountain officials are particularly excited about the expansion of behavioral health services. Much of this was driven by the community demanding more services, Flood said.
“People ask what we do in behavioral health? And do we have enough there?” he said. “Since that time, we’ve added more ways and opportunities to build our behavioral health programs for children.”
Expanding behavioral health is an important part of the effort, Welkie said.
“It’s probably the area where we get the most questions and interest,” she said. “And it’s increasingly becoming a community effort to do more for behavioral health.”
Intermountain has seen a 300 percent increase in children presented to emergency departments for behavioral health problems in recent years, Welkie said. It’s a nationwide trend, and some health organizations have called on President Biden’s administration to declare a national emergency to address the child mental health crisis.
“We see a lot of kids with depression and anxiety and whether that’s in the ER, which I think is something we really want to try and avoid. Because emergency rooms are not the best place for children with behavioral health problems,” she said.
As family health professionals treat an increasing number of young patients with mental health issues, Intermountain is also working with pediatricians to provide them with the expertise and resources to help these patients, Welkie said.
value of philanthropy
When asked about the success of the fundraiser, Flood said, “The reality is that the substance of this project was very compelling to people.”
Some of the donations were the largest philanthropic contributions ever made by some families, Flood said.
“They see this as a legacy,” Flood said.
For others, it’s the first significant donation they’ve ever made, he said.
More hospitals will turn to philanthropy to support important initiatives, Flood said.
“More advanced systems invest in significant private philanthropy programs,” Flood said. “This is the business with the highest return on investment in our system. It has become a strategic imperative.”
“It’s something as payers understandably try to pay less and less for healthcare that has become expensive,” he added. “Philanthropy has been a great gateway to opportunity. And I think more and more system CEOs and hospital leaders are seeing that and not just for it or expecting it. They take part because they are so important to it.”
The fundraiser also aligns with Intermountain’s goals of expanding services while keeping costs down for patients, Flood said.
“Having that vision and not being able to put the cost on patients is difficult to accomplish,” he said. “And I think the fact that we’re doing that makes me very proud. And I think we touch life and we connect people with the possibility of touching life.”
For Welkie, this is her first experience of such a large and comprehensive campaign. She said it was also very rewarding.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity to work with people who understand the power of giving,” she said. “And it really is. We all love to give…and to give to others who aren’t necessarily in the hospital touching a patient, but giving other people the opportunity to touch patients is very, very powerful.”