Commentary: Reflecting on pediatric health care in Southwest Florida as Golisano Children’s Hospital opens – Naples Daily News

As we settle into the new, 300,000-square-foot Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, we are filled with pride, gratitude and excitement for the future of pediatric health care in Southwest Florida.

We are also humbled by how far we have come, and what we have been able to build together to serve children and families throughout Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties.

The foundation for Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida was laid many years ago. The first pediatric unit opened at Lee Memorial Hospital in 1968 and services expanded during the 1980s. In 1984, the hospital became a state-designated Level III neonatal intensive care unit with the capabilities of caring for the tiniest premature newborns.

No longer needing to transfer these patients and their families to Tampa or Miami, the program grew rapidly and Lee Memorial Hospital was challenged to provide adequate space.

In 1991, with the opening of HealthPark Medical Center south of Fort Myers, all obstetrical and pediatric services moved, and at the same time, expanded to include a pediatric intensive care unit. It was then, under the leadership of Dr. Bob Arnall — a pediatrician, Lee Memorial Hospital’s medical director and the person credited as “The Father of the Children’s Hospital” — the vision of a children’s hospital began to take shape. The hospital received recognition as a children’s hospital in 1994.

The children’s hospital continued adding new programs and services, little by little, year by year. As we expanded, we “borrowed” space that was previously occupied by adults and we had children spread through various areas of HealthPark Medical Center.

Admissions continued to increase. We had to rectify the fragmented services, but we also knew we needed to create a child- and family-friendly environment and culture to care for children and their families the way they should be treated. We knew we needed a separate facility designed just for children and families.

Dr. Emad Salman and I, and many other hospital and community leaders, took Dr. Arnall’s dream — which quickly became our own dream, too — and worked to bring it to fruition.

But it really took our entire community’s support — financial and otherwise — to make the hospital a reality.

Naples resident Tom Golisano’s faith and generous gift propelled us and served as a springboard to our goal, and inspired so many in our community to also invest in children’s health care. That is why we believe Golisano Children’s Hospital is a beacon of hope, proof of what can be accomplished when we work together toward a common goal and a gift from our community to our community.

Today, Golisano Children’s Hospital has the space (with room to grow), the amenities and the design aesthetic to provide the child- and family-friendly care our community deserves. We also employ more than 400 specially trained pediatric nurses, 93 physicians and 38 advanced providers — in most major pediatric specialties — who have advanced training to treat children and adolescents.

Throughout our growth and since the beginning, we have always been focused on providing the highest quality, compassionate care that makes each child’s experience memorable, not scary. In 2016, Golisano Children’s Hospital’s high-quality care was recognized when we were one of only nine children’s hospitals in the country to be named a “Top Hospital” by The Leapfrog Group.

There have been many highlights, milestones and challenges along the way as we built pediatric health care services in Southwest Florida. It has been my honor to be involved in seeing a 20-plus-year dream become reality, and I look forward to seeing how this legacy of hope, comfort, compassion and care continues to grow and evolve in the years and decades to come.

Kathy Bridge-Liles is the Chief Administrative Officer for Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida. For more information, email Media@LeeHealth.org.

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