Industry experts say the outlook for children's hospitals in the years ahead remains positive. Demographics are favorable and there are few alternatives for treating kids with serious medical conditions.
“Hospitalization will decline, but the children's population is less sensitive to that,” said Steve Weylandt, managing director at consultancy BDC Advisors.
Staffed-bed counts at the nation's children's hospitals rose 0.6% to 13,496 in 2013 compared with 2012. Admissions also grew by 0.3%.
When serious infectious diseases, cardiac malfunctions or cancer strike children, most wind up in the hospital. Treatment in outpatient facilities usually isn't an option.
Demographics are also working to bolster children's hospitals. While areas with growing populations are likely to see the fastest growth in treatable children, even slow-growing markets in the Midwest and Northeast are expecting larger children's populations. The Census Bureau projects the number of U.S. children under 18 will grow 2.6% from around 74.3 million in 2014—the highest total ever—to 76.2 million in 2020.
Akron (Ohio) Children's Hospital, the fastest-growing hospital on the list, is working to anticipate that wave. Its bed count rose 11.3% to 414 in 2013 compared to 2012. Admissions grew 0.6% to 9,508. In 2008, the hospital opened the first specialized pediatric hospital in Youngstown, Ohio, creating a new source of growth for the system, according to Grace Wakulchik, the hospital's chief operating officer.
In May, the hospital plans to open a $200 million expansion in Akron that will include a new emergency department, larger trauma rooms and 75 neonatal beds. “The sickest of the sick come here for surgery,” she said.