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All Children’s Hospital receives prestigious designation

Mark Parker



A helicopter lands at St. Petersburg's Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. The facility recently earned recognition as one of three Level 1 children's surgery centers in the state. Photos provided.

Last week, St. Petersburg’s Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital became the only pediatric hospital on Florida’s Gulf Coast – and just the third in the state – to receive the designation of Level 1 Children’s Surgery Center.

Dr. Paul Danielson, chair of the department of surgery at John’s Hopkins All Children’s, noted that less than 50 institutions across the U.S. have received the prestigious designation from the American College of Surgeons (ACS). The Children’s Surgery Verification program established the nation’s first and only multispecialty standards for infant and child surgical care. Its evidence-based standards represent an expert consensus supported by the American Pediatric Surgical Association and the Society of Pediatric Anesthesia.

Danielson said the verification of excellence highlights a community resource that extends far beyond St. Petersburg and Tampa.

“It reflects the growing sophistication of healthcare delivery in the area,” said Danielson. “I think this whole region just continues to get better and better.”

The designation was a goal for Danielson, as he believed it was an important part of the vision for growing the department of surgery at All Children’s. He said the hospital underwent a journey to transition from a subspecialty health care provider for kids to a pediatric academic medical center over the last 10 years or so.

To achieve that objective takes a significant amount of time and resources, said Danielson, and the ACS verification represents a milestone in the surgery department’s journey. He called it an acknowledgment of the planning and hard work it took to build an academic pediatric surgery center that increases the quality and safety of child health care, benefitting families that may live hundreds of miles away.

“You can always read your own press clippings and feel good about yourself,” said Danielson. “But when you have an outside body like the American College of Surgeons – which sets the bar across the county – come in and say, ‘yep, you guys did it,’ I think that’s a great thing.”

Dr. Paul Danielson, chair of the department of surgery at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Danielson said All Children’s is “sort of two hospitals in one.” He explained that the facility remains a local hospital for kids throughout St. Pete and Tampa, handling relatively minor situations such as an earring getting stuck in the back of a little girl’s ear. He called that “simple stuff” that remains important to the surrounding community.

The other side of All Children’s, said Danielson, is the tertiary and quaternary (most advanced) referral center, offering high-tech, specialized and complex surgical care. That includes removing airway obstructions, heart transplants and excising brain tumors.

“That’s not something that can just happen anywhere,” he said. “There are people who come from around the country to get those operations here too.”

Danielson said the people that work at All Children’s work there because they genuinely enjoy taking care of kids. He said a bond exists for the hospital’s staff, who approach every procedure like major surgery. He said bad things can always happen, lightning can strike at any time and medical personnel must remain vigilant and at the top of their game.

While perfection is sometimes hard to achieve, Danielson said that is the ultimate goal for him and his staff, whether they are removing something from someone’s ear or inserting a new heart.

“There’s an old saying in surgery,” relayed Danielson. “The definition of a minor surgery is an operation being done on someone else; the definition of a major surgery is an operation being done on you.

“And if you talk to any parent, they don’t consider any procedure done on their kids as a minor operation – the most precious thing in their life is their kids.”

The ACS, Danielson explained, started the verification program due to the preponderance of facilities attempting to provide high-level care for kids without the appropriate staff, skills, techniques and resources needed to achieve the best possible outcomes.

He said scientific literature shows that children receive better levels of care in places solely focused on serving kids, with everyone from anesthesiologists to radiologists specializing in pediatric medicine.

“That’s not to say that an individual hospital couldn’t do fine taking care of a kid here and there,” said Danielson. “But if you look at the population as a whole, they do better if they’re at one of these places.”

Danielson, a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, said the organization felt responsible for establishing standards of excellence to raise the bar. The ACS conducts extensive site visits to ensure an institution meets essential criteria for staffing, training, facility infrastructure and care protocols.

Most importantly, said Danielson, the ACS compares results to other health care facilities through a national database.

“They brought an entire manual,” he said. “It’s hundreds of pages where they just enumerate everything.”

Danielson explained the other two facilities with an ACS Level 1 designation are on the east side of Florida. He said families from the Panhandle to other parts of the country come to St. Petersburg because All Children’s offers “very unique, high-end stuff” not found in other areas, even major cities.

While patients throughout the region would come to the hospital regardless of the new designation, he believes the verification of excellence help reassure families that they are receiving the highest quality of care close to home.

Danielson also noted the preponderance of companies moving to Tampa Bay and the wealth of emerging startups gaining traction throughout the region. He believes access to world-class health care facilities helps foster that growth.

“Now, one of the best hospitals in the country for surgery is right in their backyard.”



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