Viewpoint: Closing pediatric units is short-sighted and reflects a broken system

While hospital systems focus on more lucrative adult care operations, often sacrificing pediatric care in the process, the consequences of such decisions are often ignored, Brenna Miller, a health communications specialist at think tank the Lown Institute, wrote on its site Dec. 5.

Pediatric centers across the country are under increased pressure as financially strapped hospital groups seek ways to extract as much money as they can to boost their weaker budgets, Ms. Miller wrote. That has led to closures of some major pediatric units, including Tufts Medical Center in Boston this summer.

Children-focused care is often seen as less lucrative both because reimbursements tend to be smaller and because children don't typically have as many elective surgeries as adults, for example. That makes pediatric centers ripe for closure if more income is being sought, Ms. Miller said.

"The fact that hospitals feel forced to close down crucial units is indicative of the broken system in which we're operating," Ms. Miller wrote. 

The closure of such units in turn can lead to "maternity care deserts" and crowded emergency rooms as anxious parents seek ways of getting their children treated, often at long distances from their homes. That can also lead to such parents rationing care for their children, she warned.

"What does it say about our true priorities if the youngest, most vulnerable members of society are deprioritized for financial reasons?" Ms. Miller asks. "If children are the future, our health system needs to treat them like they matter."

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