It’s June. I love how my city describes the hot, humid days we love to hate. It’s just so ‘close.’
When I came to Richmond to go to medical school and first heard that phrase, I remember thinking, “Close to what?” VCU Medical Center was MCV back then, and when I graduated to become a pediatrician, I chose to stay in this ‘close’ town instead of moving to a city with a real Children’s Hospital for residency. My better half and my beautiful family would never have come to be had I made a different choice. No regrets.
Except of course… that it’s twenty five years later, and we still don’t have a real children’s hospital. You know… the kind of hospital where only the kids go and adults are usually staff members but not patients?
Mayor Jones must understand my concerns. He spoke openly about children’s healthcare, citing facts and statistics that should embarrass both our city and the Commonwealth. Some of them were as oppressive as the weather is ‘close.’ Here’s some of what he had to say at the Open Community Wealth Building Summit:
“Recently, Central Virginia has engaged in an impassioned conversation about healthcare for children in our community, and the possibility of creating a freestanding children’s hospital.
It’s an important goal for our community and for the Commonwealth as a whole.
But one thing has been missing from this conversation: Facts about the health of children. People deserve to know the facts.
And while Virginia is blessed with many fine hospitals and dedicated doctors and nurses, the fact is that the Commonwealth’s health outcomes for children are in the middle of the pack, at best.
The fact is that Virginia lags behind national numbers in childhood immunization rates, access to mental health care, and infant mortality, which is higher in the City of Richmond than the average for any of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.
For African American babies born in the City, the infant mortality rate is more than TWICE the rate for the Commonwealth as a whole.
The percent of babies born with low birth weight is substantially higher in Richmond than in the state as a whole, and it’s higher still for African American babies.
When babies are born with low birth weight, they often have multiple serious health problems as children. If they need specialized care, they often have to leave town to get it.
But if they’re poor, they usually don’t have a way to travel for care out of town.
We all know that these numbers are connected to the fact that 26% of our people live in poverty.
It’s just a fact that poor people have worse health outcomes.
In fact, the New York Times recently highlighted a VCU study which found that a child born in Gilpin Court can expect to live no longer than a child born in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
That’s a fact right here in the capital city of one of the wealthiest states in America. It’s immoral and it’s an outrage.
With facts and numbers like these, I simply cannot sit by and accept the argument that health care for children in central Virginia is fine just the way it is.
That’s why, in the coming days I will convene a group of interested stakeholders from around the region, to better understand what these facts mean for our children and for our community.
I want to be clear: Virginia’s capital city needs a freestanding children’s hospital, to serve the needs of all our children, especially the ones who are poor.
I’m committed to it, and I’ll work with anyone who wants to bring this hospital to life.”
Mayor Jones, I’ve been praying for this hospital for more than twenty years. More often than you can imagine, and you’re a minister. I want to be a catalyst for bringing a children’s hospital to life. I’ve had five children, and I know a little bit about birthing, maybe a little more about what children need to stay healthy, but I don’t know a thing about building a hospital.
And that never stopped a determined mother before. You and I both know that every other city the size of Richmond has seen fit to build its smallest citizens a real hospital of their own. And our children do without. My children have done without.
I will not stop speaking those words and writing the children’s story until every mother understands what is true. You said it best, Mayor Jones. “I simply cannot sit by and accept the argument that health care for children in central Virginia is fine just the way it is.”
You are so right. And I am determined to be the squeaky wheel with you. You keep talking about our children. They deserve the best.
Gayle Schrier Smith, MD