Q&A with Christopher Dawes, CEO

Emily Rappleye
Thursday, April 9, 2015
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Leading a children's hospital is unique in that providing healthcare for the patient means providing healthcare services for the whole family.

Becker's Hospital Review checked in with Christopher Dawes, president and CEO of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. Mr. Dawes first joined the hospital in 1991 and has served as president and CEO for nearly 20 years, since 1997.

Here Mr. Dawes speaks on how Lucile Packard Children's is responding to the increased demand for healthcare services in Northern California, the $1.1 billion plan to build a children's hospital of the future and why he went into healthcare and never looked back. 

Note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and style.

Question: What inspired you to pursue a career in healthcare? 

Christopher Dawes: As so often happens in life, it came a bit out of the blue. Pursuing a healthcare career wasn't really on my radar until I spent some time with a healthcare executive just before I finished undergraduate school. He asked, "Have you ever thought about working at a hospital?" to which I responded, "No, I can't stand the sight of blood!" He then went on to clarify that he was referring to the world of hospital administration.

This intrigued me, so I pursued and completed an administrative residency at the University of California San Diego Medical Center. Not only did I discover how much I liked the work, but I immediately felt a passion for healthcare as a career. Nine months later, I was hired full-time at a small, privately owned hospital group. Since then, I've never looked back.  

Q: How has your role changed since you started in 1989? 

CD: Throughout the first part of my career, I was focused on operations. After being named CEO of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in 1997, my responsibilities evolved into leading strategy and program development at the hospital, which had only recently opened in 1991. Since then, I have partnered with Stanford leadership to bring innovation and growth to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital as we worked to build pre-eminence in pediatric and obstetric care.

Now we can confidently say that Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford has the faculty, clinical care, research and outcomes to ensure we are always ranked by families and peers as one of the top children's hospitals in America. [U.S. News & World Report ranked the hospital nationally in nine specialties for 2014-15, with three specialty programs making the top 10 in the nation and five in the top 15. It was the only children's hospital in Northern California with three specialty programs ranked in the nation's top 10.] In addition, we're expanding our hospital, which will open in 2017 to feature 149 additional patient rooms, space for advanced diagnostic and treatment therapies, expanded support services and the latest in sustainable design practices. We share all these accomplishments not just with the children and expectant mothers who benefit from the highest quality of care, but also with the Stanford School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care and Stanford University.

My role has changed in other ways. Our hospital's success has paved the way for an industry-leading network that reaches beyond our primary market to provide world-class care to patients across the Bay Area, Northern California and the

U.S. western region. As president and CEO of Stanford Children's Health as well as Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, I oversee an entire enterprise that's exclusively dedicated to children and expectant mothers.

Q: To expand on that last statement, Stanford Children's Health is the only network in Northern California dedicated to children and expectant mothers. What challenges and opportunities does this position present?

CD: Making communities aware that we have expanded access to our care is one challenge. We now offer a Stanford Children's Health obstetrician, pediatrician or specialist within 10 miles of most Bay Area family homes.

This system of care encompasses more than 1,000 pediatricians, specialists and subspecialists, as well as pediatric specialty centers throughout the Bay Area. We also have specialty offices and outreach clinics from Monterey, Calif., to Stockton, Calif., to Reno, Nev., plus collaborations and partnerships at more than 100 locations in eight states. Families love hearing that one of the top healthcare brands in the world is now accessible close to where they live.

The opportunities are huge.

First, families want to be a part of a total system of care, one that ranges from primary care to the most acute illness. Together with Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, we're offering a total system of comprehensive, multidisciplinary care that ranges from primary care to the most acute illness.

Second, there is an increased demand for our services — consumers want the finest doctors, specialists and sub-specialists, but they are also looking for convenience and availability. Today's busy families, with over 1 million kids in Northern California, expect high-quality care to be accessible close to where they live. Hearing the Stanford brand of care is available near home? It's a huge win for families.

Third, there is a local and national shortage of pediatric specialists and sub-specialists in America. Expanding access to our healthcare services means doctors, specialists and sub-specialists from Stanford Children's Health are readily available to provide dedicated, preeminent pediatric and obstetric care. These are doctors who have access to the latest in Stanford Medicine research and protocols. This is filling a very important community need.

Finally, it's important to note that in the Bay Area, we are the only fully integrated pediatric and obstetric network with all clinical care, from inpatient to specialty care and primary care, supported on the same information services and technology platform. This is a huge benefit to families and doctors.

Q: As the country faces a growing physician shortage, how does Stanford Children's continue to recruit top pediatricians?

CD: Our reputation for advanced care and research means a lot. There are two drivers that affect the recruitment of top pediatricians. One is that Lucile Packard Children's Hospital is a children's hospital focused exclusively on the care of children and expectant mothers. As mentioned before, we are an academic medical center, and pediatricians, now and in the future, want to be a part of one of the world's most respected health care brands and research institutions. U.S. News & World Report ranked the Stanford University School of Medicine second in the nation for medical research in 2015. It's where many of the most promising young physicians and surgeons in America want to be, both to train and to live.

Q: If you could change one thing tomorrow about how healthcare is delivered for children and mothers, what would it be?

CD: I think it is most important to have equal access to healthcare. While access in communities is fairly good and getting better every day, we still have a number of children and mothers who struggle to get the care and access they need. To this end, we are proud to say that we never turn anyone away, and in the most recent fiscal year, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children's Health provided more than $208 million in benefits to the community.

Q: Compared to a general acute-care hospital, what challenges are unique to financing care at a pediatric hospital?

CD: From a financing perspective, what is unique about our Lucile Packard Children's Hospital is that over 40 percent of the patients we serve are sponsored or paid for by Medi-Cal and Medicaid. Historically, Medi-Cal pays substantially less than what it costs to provide this care. Therefore, in order for us to continue our success, we have to continually address financing challenges.

Q: Lucile Packard Children's Hospital is in the midst of a $1.1 billion expansion that will nearly double the hospital's size. What will this do for the community and what is the most exciting part of the expansion?

CD: Well, the demand for our services has never been greater, whether the patient is from around the corner or from around the world. That's because pediatricians at academic medical centers like Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, a teaching hospital of the Stanford University School of Medicine, are increasingly treating the sickest of kids — those who are living with lifelong, chronic illnesses that need regular and ongoing management that may not have been necessary in previous years. The demand for this type of advanced care is great and becoming greater.

To serve this population, we are building what we believe will be the most technically advanced, family-friendly and environmentally sustainable hospital for children and expectant mothers. There are many exciting parts to this expansion, which will also create a new main building for our hospital, which originally opened in 1991.

What I am most excited about is that it's being designed to really treat the whole family. This means including three-and-a-half acres of healing gardens and green space, more private rooms and spaces for families to be together during the healing process, and adding advanced imaging technologies to ensure patients no longer have to transport between locations when requiring imaging during surgery. We're also doubling the number of operating rooms and adding enough patient rooms to drastically cut family waiting times.  

And, the sustainability improvements are industry-leading. These range from alternative energy systems throughout, lighting power reductions, quiet hospital considerations, green housekeeping and more.

Finally, because technology continues to change every aspect of patient care, our hospital expansion has been designed to be adaptable enough to accommodate and anticipate new protocols and equipment as they develop. It's truly a hospital for the future.

This article first appeared in Becker's Hospital Review.

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