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Growth based on patient access

WARREN — Akron Children’s Hospital expanded its primary care service in the Mahoning Valley market in each of the three counties that make up the region in the past 12 months, growth by the system to bring patient care closer to home.

That’s the guiding philosophy for Akron Children’s, whether it’s brick-and-mortar to add exam rooms or service-related specialties like expanded behavioral health.

“We really believe in bringing services and specialists closer to home for our patients. That is what drives all of our decisions,” said Lisa Aurilio, chief operating officer for Akron Children’s. “When you have a sick child, it’s one of the most stressful things that you have. Whether it’s the cold and sniffles or all the way to something more serious, it stresses the whole family. We feel like if we can bring services closer to home, it makes it one less stressor for families already stressed — that is what we are about.”

“Whenever we expand, whether it’s programs or brick-and-mortar, it’s always done with an eye to how do we bring care closer to families to make it less stressful,” she said.

LOCAL GROWTH

In Trumbull County, Akron Children’s expanded its rehabilitative services at its facility on East Market Street to accommodate for more physical, speech and occupational therapies, Aurilio said.

Also in Trumbull County, Akron Children’s relocated, but remained on Belmont Avenue. The move gave the health care provider more room to treat patients. The new office is at 3530 Belmont Ave.

With the move, the number of primary care exam rooms is increasing from six to nine. The facility also includes a dedicated room for behavioral health services, according to the hospital.

And over the next two to three years, Akron Children’s will expand its emergency room at its Beeghly Campus in Boardman, taking the space from 17 to 23 beds and adding nearly 30,000 square feet. Aurilio said on its busiest days, 130 or so patients were coming in per day for care before COVID-19 and 180 after the pandemic struck. The emergency room, built in 1985, is situated, she said, to see about 80 patients per day.

Ground is expected to break this fall on the $30 million project.

In 2019, Akron Children’s expanded its behavioral health services, also at Beeghly at the former Youngstown Hearing and Speech building, for children and teens. The $2.3 million project put into service nine therapy rooms and space for group sessions, and set into motion the hospital’s partial hospitalization program for adolescents and teens who need more intensive outpatient treatment.

HOW TO GROW

Part of the reason for the need to expand, said Aurilio, a native of Girard, is patients are seeking out the Akron Children’s because of its stellar reputation with child care. Another reason, the hospital routinely tracks the needs of patients and the services they require to make sure the needs are met and services are accessible.

A committee reviews the data for a different service each week.

“What also drives the growth is really about access,” Aurilio said. “We have very tight standards. When you call and your child is sick, we want to see you in 24 to 48 hours. We don’t want to see you in five days. That is way too long.

“Our goal is when we see those numbers of access starting to creep up, we know we need to expand and grow,” she said.

VIRAL OUTBREAK

Like other health care providers, to slow the spread of COVID-19 and to conserve personnel protective equipment, which was in short supply at the pandemic’s onset, Akron Children’s cut back on elective surgeries.

And like other health care providers, when the situation improved, Akron Children’s started to reopen with health and safety precautions, including screening, extra hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing.

But there was a bit of a troubling trend.

“What we have noticed is some parents delaying their child in their well visit, which we know is so important in pediatric care. That makes us a little nervous because we want the kids to get their well checkup because we know we can catch a lot of things during those exams that will keep them from getting sicker, so we would like to see that come back stronger,” Aurilio said.

To help calm parents’ fears, Akron Children’s has put out the message relative to health and safety standards, started a mobile check-in system and is calling families.

Aurilio said the viral outbreak has impacted the mental health of kids, that the system is seeing greater numbers of children who need mental health care since their lives were thrown out of whack. They were pulled out of school and activities, kept from seeing their friends and family and those who returned to school have to wear masks and social distance.

They’re also picking up on stressors felt by their parents caused by the pandemic, Aurilio said.

“I think there is a lot of factors affecting kids,” she said. “One is that developmental process of being able to comprehend and understand. The second is we know a lot of the developmental milestones that are so part of youth development. For teens, we know that being with friends and peers is so vital to development as a teenager.”

ACROSS THE SYSTEM

Akron Children’s in January began offering bariatric surgery for eligible patients as part of its Healthy Activity Living Program, which providers personalized support for children and teens struggling with serious weight-related issues.

Candidates are typically between 13 and 21 years old, have a body mass index of 35 or greater with medical concerns associated to obesity, including diabetes and fatty liver disease, or sleep apnea with a body mass index of 40 or greater, according to the hospital.

Before surgery becomes and option, the teens with a parent or another adult support person commit to at least six months of clinic visits to work on lifestyle changes, said Dr. Marnie Walston, who heads up the program.

“We know have good data that shows that adolescents get the same benefits from bariatric surgery as adults,” said Dr. Mark Wulkan, one of two doctors who lead the surgical team. “Most importantly, the data shows that kids can actually have a better response in reversing high blood pressure, diabetes and other co-morbidities. So it make the case for early intervention — we want to prevent disease rather than reverse it.”

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