The 2019-2020 academic year was always going to be a critical one at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. We were opening the largest and most comprehensive facility of its kind in the United States, the Big Lots Behavioral Health Pavilion. We were ending a decade of astonishing growth, surpassing more than 1.6 million annual patient visits from around the globe and expanding an already a thriving research institute, now among the pediatric leaders in National Institutes of Health funding and technology commercialization. We were (and are) approaching the final stages of an organization-wide strategic plan, Journey to Best Outcomes.
With all of this momentum, our eyes were on the next phase. Transformational members of our executive team were retiring, and new leaders — some of our architects of the future — were joining us. This was also my first full year as CEO of Nationwide Children’s, and I could see our nearly limitless potential.
We were motivated for a new era, positioned to take on any challenge a new decade had for us.
Then came 2020. There were the COVID-19 pandemic and the tragic loss of life that accompanied it; financial worries across the United States; a potential change in the health care services paradigm as telehealth expanded; and an overdue national reckoning on issues of race and health equity, compounded by the disparities that COVID-19 highlighted.
No one expected the new decade to begin like this, and yet it has proven what we believed: Nationwide Children’s can not only navigate difficult times; we can be agile through them, aligning our response to actually accelerate our efforts to improve child health and wellbeing. In fact, in some important ways, we made significant headway this year.
We went from having a smattering of telehealth appointments in 2019 to 2,000 per day in April and May. Approximately half of those visits came in Behavioral Health, because our deep investments in those services over the last decade, highlighted by the new Pavilion opening this past February, allowed us to quickly pivot to the new technology. Even when the pandemic ends, it’s clear telehealth will benefit our patients far into the future.
Our nearly 15 years of national leadership in pediatric quality and safety gave us the processes and tools to protect our patients and staff from infection, and to safely resume services when it was appropriate. Our recently retired chief medical officer, Richard Brilli, MD, pioneered the pediatric quality field at Nationwide Children’s; our new CMO, Rustin Morse, MD, is a nationally prominent safety leader poised to take us even further. Longtime Chief Nursing Officer Linda Stoverock, DNP, RN, also retired this year after guiding us to the prestigious American
Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet Recognition four times; Lee Ann Wallace, RN, MBA, has already become a passionate advocate for nurses and families as our new CNO.
Extensive research and lab capabilities allowed us to quickly develop in-house COVID-19 testing facilities and to begin studies to inform treatments for the coronavirus. Because our research programs continue to expand, Nationwide Children’s broke ground on the Abigail Wexner Research Institute’s fourth building. In addition, our expertise in gene therapy has led us to create Andelyn Biosciences, an affiliate company for the manufacture of gene therapy products. Andelyn was established as a freestanding company in 2020 and will expand its manufacturing capacity in a new facility by 2023.
Architects of the Future
Pictured above, from left to right: John A. Barnard, MD, chief of Pediatrics and president of the Abigail Wexner Research Institute; Rustin B. Morse, MD, chief medical officer; Oluyinka O. Olutoye, MD, PhD, surgeon-in-chief; Olivia W. Thomas, MD, chief diversity and health equity officer; Lee Ann Wallace, RN, MBA, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer
Nationwide Children’s work on population health and health equity issues has never seemed more vital. Our accountable care organization, Partners For Kids®, which improves health care access and quality for 325,000 children in south central and southeastern Ohio, expanded in 2020 to the state’s west central region and an additional 94,000 children with the collaboration of Dayton Children’s Hospital. Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families, our nationally recognized community partnership to revitalize the South Side of Columbus, has moved into another neighborhood, Linden, to begin creating housing, educational opportunities and workforce development programs.
The events of 2020 have convinced us, however, that we must do even more to fight disparity and inequities. Our new hospital-wide initiative, Stand Against Racism. Stand For Health Equity, will help us improve the outcomes of children everywhere and guide our efforts to create a more equitable world for our staff, our community and the families we serve.
Our entire team knows there is a great deal of work remaining, but I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished at Nationwide Children’s this year. We have done more than weather a challenge. We have continued to seize opportunities to improve the lives of children through care, research and advocacy – and we are more optimistic than ever for the future.
CEO of Nationwide Children’s Hospital