Angel Torres was running out of options. After multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a fruitless search for a bone marrow donor, the 3-year-old’s odds against acute lymphoblastic leukemia were grim. That changed in June, when Phoenix Children’s providers recommended CAR-T cellular therapy, a breakthrough new treatment that uses a patient’s own T-cells to attack and destroy cancer cells. Only available at a handful of children’s cancer centers nationwide, CAR-T worked for Angel, destroying the leukemia cells and giving him a second chance at life.
His is one of thousands of stories of hope and healing at Phoenix Children’s, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this month. Since opening its doors in 1983, the health system has become a destination for care in cancer, cardiology, neurology, trauma, and numerous other specialty areas, providing treatment for children needing a specialized level of care.
Just like Angel and countless other patients, the Phoenix Children’s story is one of courage, tenacity and triumph – even in the face of difficult odds.
“In the late 1970s, Phoenix was experiencing explosive growth, attracting new businesses and families,” said Allen Kaplan, MD, Chairman of the Phoenix Children’s Archives Committee and former Director of Neurology and Neurosciences at Phoenix Children’s. “It was then the ninth-largest metropolitan area, but for all the excitement of the time, it was missing something most other large cities offered – a children’s hospital.”
In 1978, a study concluded a children’s hospital was feasible in Central Phoenix, and The Maricopa County Pediatric Society, under the leadership of David Trump, MD, conducted a poll revealing wide support for a children’s hospital. Then, in 1980, an eight-person board established and incorporated under the chair of Allen Rosenberg sent a letter to all Valley hospitals to gauge their interest in supporting a children’s hospital. With those insights, the goal became clear: to locate a children’s hospital on the campus of an existing hospital, thereby saving start-up expenses and maximizing resources.
Their vision was realized a few short years later when, on Sept. 18, 1983, Phoenix Children’s Hospital opened on the campus of Good Samaritan Hospital, with its first CEO, Dan Cloud, MD. A Blue Ribbon Committee was heavily involved in selecting the adult system to house Phoenix Children’s– setting a collaboration benchmark from the very start.
“Opening an independent children’s hospital was an incredible achievement, and it meant so much to the community,” added Dr. Kaplan. “It was the first step in establishing a system of care that would reach across Arizona and provide our children with access to pediatric-specific, specialized programs and providers.”
Over the next 17 years, the Hospital grew steadily, and with it the demand for more beds and expanded clinical programs. In 2000, Phoenix Children’s purchased a 22-acre site at Thomas Street and State Route 51, originally occupied by the Phoenix Regional Medical Center, and began the process of renovating the building. In May 2002, Phoenix Children’s opened as Arizona’s only licensed freestanding pediatric hospital.
While the early 2000s brought challenges that threatened the Hospital’s financial solvency, the vision for Phoenix Children’s triumphed. Over the next decade – and with significant support and investment from the greater Phoenix community – Phoenix Children’s built an 11-story patient tower, urgent care and specialty centers across Arizona, and clinical programs to serve children with complex and chronic care needs.
“Our 35th anniversary provides an opportunity to acknowledge the commitment and sacrifice of the people who helped us overcome our challenges and come out on the other side,” said Robert. L. Meyer, President and CEO of Phoenix Children’s, who joined Phoenix Children’s in 2002 and helmed the organization’s expansion. “We are grateful for employees, providers and donors who banded together to serve our children – even in uncertain times.”
Just like Phoenix, now the fastest-growing metro in the country, the organization has achieved considerable growth since opening 35 years ago as a 124-bed hospital co-located with Good Samaritan. Today, Phoenix Children’s is a statewide, interconnected pediatric health system with urgent care centers and specialty offices across Arizona, a network of community physicians and specialists, partnerships with major health organizations including Mayo Clinic, Dignity Health and Barrow Neurological Institute, a medical staff of nearly 1,000 pediatric specialists, and more than 4,500 local employees. Phoenix Children’s also is a destination for clinical research and education, training the next generation of pediatric experts.
In the past year alone, Phoenix Children’s has built a new Emergency Department and Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, expanded its Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, and opened a new pathology laboratory, all to meet the demand of a burgeoning pediatric population and provide a high level of care for medically complex patients in Arizona and across the Southwest.
“Our expansion has allowed us to care for children in communities across the state,” added Meyer. With the growth of greater Phoenix and the support of the community, we also have grown our clinical programs and added some of the world’s best specialists and providers to our ranks – people who can heal kids like Angel.”
Not surprisingly, recruiting top providers has made an indelible impact on patient care. A nod to the quality of its specialized programs and patient outcomes, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Phoenix Children’s a “Best Children’s Hospital” every year since 2008. In July, the Hospital system earned rankings in 10 out of 10 clinical specialties – one of only 23 hospitals in the U.S. to do so – and continues to be the only hospital in Arizona ever to earn a spot among the nation’s “Best Children’s Hospitals.”
But with all the effort to build the finest clinical programs in the region, Phoenix Children’s also has sharpened its focus on increasing access to care while keeping costs down.
“We are a nonprofit, safety-net hospital system that cares for children across the region, including our state’s sickest and most vulnerable kids,” added Meyer. “Our judicious use of healthcare dollars is more important than ever before, especially given the ongoing rise in health insurance premiums.”
To that end, in 2013, the Hospital system launched the nation’s first pediatric clinically integrated network. Phoenix Children’s Care Network (PCCN) blazed the trail for pediatric hospitals nationwide in reducing costs, improving outcomes, and shifting the care delivery model from fee-for-service to value-based care. A nod to its success, PCCN is the first and only pediatric care network to receive accreditation from URAC, an independent leader in promoting healthcare quality through accreditation, certification and measurement.
Today, the network includes more than 1,000 pediatric providers, including primary care physicians and subspecialists working in the community and within Phoenix Children’s facilities to provide a continuum of high-value, high-quality care, all while increasing efficiency.
“PCCN’s outcome-driven model is an innovation that assures the very best care for Arizona’s children, now and in the future,” said Meyer.
While Sept. 2018 marks a major milestone for the organization, Phoenix Children’s is busy making plans for the future. Later this year, the health system will open sports physical therapy facilities in Gilbert and Phoenix – the first such facilities in Arizona focused on a child, teen and young adult patient population – providing return-to-sports readiness care for young athletes while mitigating risk for re-injury. And, in 2020, Phoenix Children’s and Dignity Health will open a women and children’s tower to care for Arizona’s new and expectant mothers and their babies.
Today, in a nod to the legacy built by past and present providers, employees and the community, the organization is celebrating its 35th anniversary with stories that made Phoenix Children’s what it is today. Visit Phoenix Children’s on Facebook to read these stories, visit an interactive timeline on Phoenix Children’s history, and experience the powerful connection between the organization and the community it serves.