In an economic downturn that has plunged Arizona into its worst financial crisis in decades, one sector of the state’s economy that remains vibrant and growing is the health care industry. Consider recent developments driven primarily by population growth: the Creighton University partnership with St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center; the newly opened Cardon Children’s Medical Center, a Banner Health facility in Mesa; the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center scheduled to open in Gilbert in late 2011; and a major expansion of Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
The academic affiliation between Omaha-based Creighton and St. Joseph’s will bring nearly 30 percent of Creighton’s medical students to Phoenix for two years of clinical studies. Since 2005, Creighton has sent relatively few medical school students to St. Joseph’s for one-month rotations. Under the new agreement, 42, third-year Creighton students will arrive at St. Joseph’s in 2012 and in 2013, for a total of 84 students on the new campus, to be known as the Creighton University School of Medicine at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Creighton will provide an associate dean and several administrative support staff, but faculty instructors will be St. Joseph’s doctors and other medical personnel.
Linda Hunt, service area president of Catholic Healthcare West Arizona, president of St. Joseph’s and chair of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council’s Healthcare Leadership Council, says the goal is to retain many of the students in Arizona for residency and eventually have them set up practices here.
“We’re a large population and when you compare us to the rest of the country we have to import our physicians,” Hunt says. “We need the capacity to educate and to care for more of the population.”
The Cardon Children’s Medical Center, which opened Nov. 9, provides comprehensive pediatric care for children. The facility has 248 beds and works with 225 physicians. Top specialties include cancer, neurology, emergency services, surgery, and a level-III neonatal intensive care unit.
“Children often need special help coping with acute and chronic illness,” says Peter Fine, Banner Health president and CEO. “We know Cardon Children’s Medical Center will make a difference in the lives of countless children and their families. Its opening will offer a new option for outstanding pediatric care that is clearly needed by the Valley’s growing population.”
Meanwhile, the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center joined forces with Banner Health on Dec. 1, launching construction of a facility intended to deliver an unprecedented level of cancer care to patients in Arizona. Along with treating cancer patients, M. D. Anderson, based in Houston, also offers access to therapeutic clinical research exploring novel treatments.
Fine calls the relationship with M.D. Anderson “a major milestone in the vision of our two organizations to provide access to a new level of cancer care in Arizona.”
The $107 million, 76-bed center will be a 120,000 square foot, three-story building focusing on outpatient services, including physician clinics, medical imaging, radiation oncology, infusion therapy and many support services. Inpatients will be treated on two floors inside Banner Gateway Medical Center.
“M.D. Anderson is not and will not be something similar to what exists in the Phoenix market today,” Fine says. “We are bringing the No. 1 cancer center in the country to Arizona and to have them run it as closely as is possible. There will be significant amounts of automation tying in all their clinicians in this marketplace to clinicians in their Houston campus. For research purposes, protocol purposes, they will in essence be one clinical business on two campuses.”
In 2008, Phoenix Children’s Hospital broke ground on a $588-million expansion that includes an 11-story patient tower scheduled for completion by 2012. As of December 2009, Phase I marked its halfway point, was on-budget and on-schedule. The project will increase the number of its licensed beds to 626 from 345.
Bob Meyer, president and CEO of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, says research indicates Maricopa County has more than 1 million children today and by 2025, an additional 500,000 to 700,000 youngsters will be living in the Greater Phoenix area.
“If you believe those numbers,” Meyer says, “deficits in pediatric capacity are astounding. Estimates are that we will be short 800 pediatric beds by 2025, and short about 400 pediatric specialists.”
Another key reason for the expansion, Meyer says, is that the existing hospital building, which was built in the late 1960s, does not have the floor-to-ceiling height to accommodate today’s newer technology.
Dr. William Crist, vice president of health affairs at the University of Arizona, says the ongoing expansion projects in Greater Phoenix really are thoughtful plans for growth and development of service for a city that’s expanding markedly — even though that growth has leveled off because of the recession.
Crist cites the aging baby boomer generation as the reason for an increasing need in expanded adult medical care.
“Potentially, most cancer occurs in older individuals,” Crist says. “The aging of our population is made possible by advances in health care. It keeps you alive long enough to develop chronic illnesses.”