The Pediatric Preparedness Network today brought in Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and four other hospitals with a $29 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration.
The group, launched last year by five initial children's hospitals, will focus on health equity and the unique needs of children during pandemics, Lurie said in a statement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that children are uniquely impacted by new infectious threats in their communities and that impact is felt far beyond hospital walls,” Dr. Larry Kociolek, medical director of infection, prevention and control at Lurie Children’s.
Kociolek said that while "medical systems were well prepared to identify infectious threats and quickly implement ways to keep kids safe," there were challenges with COVID-19 in scaling up treatments and prevention tactics and in shutting down children's lives for too long.
"It took longer than it should have to get kids safely back in school."
Next time, children's hospitals need to learn from this pandemic and be more ready to work in the community, reaching institutions like schools, daycares, mental health, athletics "and other places where children congregate that is outside the oversight of an acute care hospital," Kociolek said.
The group will address not only infectious disease but clinical preparedness, mental health, health equity and community engagement, he said. A major key to future preparedness will be using telehealth to both treat a pandemic virus and to maintain nonpandemic healthcare, he said.
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The Pandemic Preparedness Network will need to address the logistical aspects of access to telehealth, ensuring that broadband is available in communities and ensuring that reimbursement issues are addressed, "so that providers can offer telehealth services without the risk of having to close their practice because that can't get reimbursed for care," Kociolek said.
In September 2021, HRSA launched the Regional PPN by funding pediatric hospitals including Cleveland's University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, University of California San Francisco-Benioff Children’s Hospitals, University of Louisville School of Medicine-Norton Children’s Hospital, University of Utah Primary Children’s Hospital, and Saint Louis University-Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital.
The new grant doubles the size and reach of the network and includes Lurie Children's Hospital, Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., Children’s Mercy Kansas City, Seattle Children’s and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics at Children’s of Alabama.
Kociolek said that this second group of children's hospitals will complement the first group, which had strong emergency preparedness credentials, by bringing expertise in infectious disease, telehealth, equity and mental health.
Lurie comes to the table with expertise in infectious diseases and program evaluation—how to objectively and quantifiably assess that a project is doing what it is designed to do, he said.
This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain's Chicago Business.