Six months ago I was asked to become the CEO of Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. I am a pediatrician and am Board Certified in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. I have worked at Children’s for 37 years, originally joining Children’s Hospital to start a hematology/oncology program. Twenty-five years ago, I was asked to direct the research program, which is now called Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI). I accepted the position as CEO because I recognized the hospital’s uniqueness as a safety net hospital for the entire Northern California region; a non-profit medical center that takes care of children regardless of their ability to pay. Its mission includes care to all children, education for future medical care providers, research that improves the lives of children worldwide, and advocacy for the health of children.
Eleven years ago our medical center was given an opportunity to restore and preserve a historically protected campus originally occupied by University High School and subsequently Merritt College and convert it into a research institute. The project, encouraged by the neighborhood, was a remarkable win-win for everyone. Among the accomplishments of its scientists since then has been the cure of sickle cell anemia, the detection of genes that increase susceptibility to diabetes, the identification of newborns with genetic disease prior to the onset of symptoms, the development of vaccines to prevent specific infectious diseases, and the demonstration of the importance of nutrition in health, wellness and prevention of disease.
Those who graduated from University High and Merritt College are proud of the how the building has been transformed into a research and education facility serving the community and world. The campus had been languishing for years, vacant and rundown. Now it is an excellent example of the commitment Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland has to the health of children. In addition, the senior center, community park and housing around the site have added to the positive impact CHORI has on the neighborhood.
The current economic challenges we are all facing have placed considerable pressure on Children’s Hospital. Of the 250,000 children seen in our outpatient facilities each year and the 10,000 children admitted to the hospital, 70 percent receive health insurance under Medicaid, or Medi-Cal as it is called in California. Reimbursement to the hospital for children under Medicaid is lower in California is than in any other state in the United States. My major challenge as CEO is to continue to serve the medical needs of children under these circumstances.
Children’s was chastised in the Feb. 10 Planet column for not repairing the roof of the former University High’s gymnasium. The gym, which is located behind the research institute, was not habitable at the time we purchased the property and would have required considerable resources that were not available to us. In order to seek funds to renovate and utilize the building to address the mission of our medical center, we applied for Federal stimulus funds with the hope that we could create an Urban Health Institute to educate families, create jobs, and study diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease, all major public health issues and medical problems faced by children we serve. If our application had been funded, we would have applied for appropriate approvals and discussed our plans with our neighbors. We would also have been required to raise the additional funds to support construction. Unfortunately, while our application was felt to be meritorious, it was not funded.
I believe that it is important that I not divert my attention from the primary mission of our medical center. As a safety net hospital, we care for the region’s sickest children. For 98 years our not-for-profit operation has been to turn no child away. In 2008, the combined total of our unpaid charity care and community benefit, which includes under-funded government insurance reimbursement, was more than $50 million. Continuing to serve the underserved, especially during difficult economic times, is the primary challenge I face as a CEO.
Since taking the job as CEO, I have meet with community representatives, county supervisors, city officials, and have had an open door policy to my neighbors. I intend to heal wounds that exist due to factors beyond my control. I have discussed our plans to keep the hospital at its current location and to raise funds to construct a pavilion on our present site. I intend to meet regularly with neighbors, community and county representatives and work together to build a healthier and stronger relationship. I hope you all support this goal and I encourage you to communicate with me on matters that will strengthen our relationship and contribute to the health of our children and our future.
Bertram Lubin, MD, is President & Chief Executive Officer, Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland.