Why Chicago’s Lurie is expanding when smaller hospitals are turning away from pediatrics

As smaller area hospitals close or consolidate their pediatric wards, Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago is doing the opposite: launching a high-profile fetal surgical center—one of only a few in the world—and, separately, beginning a $51 million project to add 48 beds for critically ill kids and newborns. Meanwhile, executives are gearing up to pitch a second expansion phase to the board later this summer.

Lurie’s pedal-to-the-metal approach stands in stark contrast to what’s happening at many community hospitals, most recently Mount Sinai Hospital on the West Side. Among those sitting on the wrong side of a decades-long shift in pediatrics toward high-end specialty care for complicated cases—and cheaper outpatient care for everything else—Sinai announced in June that it will close its 24-bed children’s ward due to lack of demand. The Chicago area has lost 140 children’s beds over the past four years, by Lurie’s count.

Meanwhile, the Streeterville-based powerhouse keeps growing, reporting an 8 percent increase in 2016 operating revenue, to $922.5 million. Five years ago, it opened a shiny new lakefront campus—adjacent to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine and the new Shirley Ryan AbilityLab—and it is now luring big-shot faculty from the nation’s best children’s hospitals. “We’ve really created a crown jewel of an academic medicine center,” says Lurie COO Michelle Stephenson.

One of the hospital’s biggest “gets” since it relocated from Lincoln Park in 2012 is Dr. Aimen Shaaban, a world-renowned fetal surgeon who started at Lurie this month after being recruited from prestigious Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He’s one of fewer than two dozen surgeons in the world who do in-utero surgery to correct congenital defects before birth. He’s also the force behind Lurie’s new Chicago Institute for Fetal Health, which it hopes will draw patients from well beyond Chicago and, indeed, the U.S….

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