Paving the Way for Pediatric Care: Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital Celebrates 20th Birthday

Susan Stacey, Providence Chief Executive for the Inland Northwest

At just four days old, Elliott Naftzger underwent her first open-heart surgery.

Born with a type of congenital heart disease known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, doctors at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital in Spokane had to act quickly to improve blood flow to her heart.

Elliott had two more heart surgeries by the time she reached her fourth birthday.

Today, Elliott is a happy, healthy nine-year-old in Walla Walla. She is looking forward to third grade and continuing to participate in several sports, including soccer, softball, and Jiu-Jitsu.

Elliott’s story is proof of what so many of us know—health care is at the heart of our communities. The work we do truly matters, and I have seen that during my 40-year tenure at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital in Spokane.

20 years of caring

From my days as a bedside nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit to my current role as chief executive, it is amazing to reflect on how far pediatric care has come in the last 20 years.

In fact, August marks two decades since Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital opened its doors, becoming the first and only children’s hospital in Eastern Washington.

I vividly remember being part of the design and construction process, which included building mock rooms for physicians, caregivers, and families to walk through to ensure the rooms we designed met their specific needs. Thank goodness we took their advice and built a facility that has stood the test of time—able to meet the demands of our dynamic and diverse families.

What we know today, and what we knew 20 years ago, is that being designated a children’s hospital was just the beginning of a long legacy of innovation and program development that allows to be at the forefront of pediatric health care, from chronic disease to acute injury and illness.

Meeting the needs of our community

Today, Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital includes more than 30 pediatric specialties, from congenital heart disease to hematology/oncology to orthopedics and more.

Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital has the only dedicated pediatric emergency department in the region, with a space designed to help make kids feel more comfortable while they receive treatment from fellowship trained and board-certified pediatric emergency medicine providers.

We have the only level four neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Eastern Washington. This level four designation means that we are equipped to care for babies as young as 22 to 24 weeks gestational age. In fact, newborns are often transferred into the Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital from Montana, Idaho, Oregon and other surrounding states so they can receive the most advanced level of care available.

Children who require intensive care, open-heart surgery, surgical intensive care, and a Level II trauma response also turn to Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. Although our primary focus is inpatient critical care, the Pediatric ICU also provides a safe, child-oriented environment for many outpatient procedures, such as bronchoscopy, endoscopy, and line and tube placements.

We closely collaborate with other regional hospitals, coordinating medical care, consulting, and sharing protocols. I’m proud of our commitment to stay connected locally, including partnerships that provide TeleNICU and TelePICU at hospitals in Richland, Moses Lake, and Walla Walla so families don’t have to travel for every appointment.

And our support services are vast, including an in-hospital education program, child life specialists, social workers, sibling support specialists, art and music therapy and unique events, including our Superheroes for Kids Day. These are just some of the ways that we help kids be kids, even when they are in the hospital.

Overcoming challenges

While we have seen so much growth over two decades, it is no secret that the last few years have been some of our most challenging: a pandemic, youth behavioral health crisis, staffing challenges, overlapping respiratory virus surges, drug shortages and more.

Despite record admissions, our teams continued to achieve excellent quality standards. This year, we started a mentorship program to support new pediatric nurses. We also supported new legislation that will lead to better care for children admitted to emergency departments for a behavioral health crisis. And in 2024, our first class of Washington State University pediatric residents will begin their training.

I am so proud of our team for staying committed to the Providence Mission to serve all, especially those who are poor and vulnerable.

Compassion in action

While our caregivers are on the front lines, we couldn’t do this important work without community support.

In 2022, as Providence and many other health care organizations faced historic financial challenges, donations to Providence Inland Northwest Foundation totaled more than $4.8 million. Those gifts help ensure our young patients have access to advanced technology, supportive programs, and experienced teams.

In fact, donations to the Providence Inland Northwest Foundation helped pay for a portable echocardiography machine providers can bring to clinics across the region to treat children with heart conditions, like Elliott, and save their families the burden of traveling hours to Spokane.

We couldn’t do this life-saving work without this kind of community support, so thank you for your steadfast support.

And so, as we celebrate our 20th birthday our wish is that if you find yourself coming through our doors, you feel surrounded by compassion and see excellence in our care. We look forward to the next twenty years, and more, as a trusted place for families seeking world-class care close to home.