'It's what the community needs': Phoenix Children's CEO on continued growth through challenging times

Over the last two decades, Robert L. Meyer has led Phoenix Children's with a growth mindset. 

Mr. Meyer — who has served as president and CEO of Arizona's only pediatric health system since November 2003 — has weathered multiple economic downturns and recessions, as well as the pandemic. 

Phoenix Children's has not been unaffected by these events — for instance, postponing elective procedures in early 2020. However, the organization has focused on forward-looking strategic planning through these challenging times, Mr. Meyer told Becker's. That planning has resulted in continued expansion, taking into account where population growth is occurring and the areas most in need of particular services.

"When you look where the growth is in the region, our existing and new facilities are geographically perfectly positioned to meet the needs of the rapidly growing population," Mr. Meyer said. "There are major improvements on the Phoenix Children's Thomas campus which are related to our centers of excellence. The high-end services we're investing in are growing extremely rapidly."

Phoenix Children's encompasses a comprehensive children's hospital, two hospital locations opening in 2023 and 2024, and more than 40 healthcare centers and clinics. 

In the East Valley, Phoenix Children's Hospital-East Valley, a five-story hospital, is slated to open in 2023 on the Mercy Gilbert Medical Center campus. Phoenix Children's has also opened specialty clinics and began offering primary care at seven Phoenix Children's Pediatrics locations in Chandler, Gilbert and Tempe.

In the West Valley, the population is projected to grow at twice the national rate by 2025, according to a Phoenix Children's fact sheet. Part of the Phoenix Children's plans to accommodate this growth is building Phoenix Children's Hospital-Arrowhead Campus, a three-story pediatric hospital slated to open in Glendale in 2024. 

Additionally, the Phoenix Children's-Avondale Campus will feature a freestanding emergency department that is slated to open in 2023, and, on the Phoenix Children's Hospital-Thomas Campus, various projects are ongoing to create more clinical space, as well as office space for workers. Phoenix Children's currently has 1,600 nurses, 650 pediatric providers (physicians and advanced practice providers), more than 50 primary care providers at Phoenix Children's Pediatrics, and 200 residents and fellows, plus 1,177 more providers in the Phoenix Children's Care Network.

"The good news for Phoenix Children's is that we're really spending our time just trying to keep up with the regional growth," Mr. Meyer said. "I view problems as challenges or opportunities, whether it's being out of ICU beds or other issues, and all of which the expansion and construction are enough to alleviate. It's been going well, and our expert clinicians and staff only complement this growth."

With all this continued growth, Phoenix Children's aims to keep up with the number of patients who will need certain services. 

For instance, "we are seeing that around 30 percent of all new patient volume and business in our ambulatory centers in Gilbert are new to the system," Mr. Meyer said. "That is more than we what we thought was going to happen. We believe the same thing is going to happen in the West Valley. We think we're going to see new growth and new patients because of the ED, which is the front door."

He also said that "solid planning is key" when considering growth — and financing it. Planning at Phoenix Children's involved focusing on the market and having discussions with developers and city governments. 

"This is one reason why we were able to issue debt and can go out to the market with our 'AA' bond rating and get reasonable debt financing for all this expansion. Financially, we are strong. We don't need to go out to the debt markets, we don't need foreign sources of financing or anything of that nature," Mr. Meyer said. 

All the current Phoenix Children's expansion plans are scheduled for completion by the end of 2024. And Mr. Meyer said he is optimistic the plans will come to fruition nicely, given the track they are on now.

"In the next three years, we are adding more ED exam rooms in three locations than we currently have at the main hospital," he said. "That's tremendously important because the ED is the front door, obviously. It's what the community needs."

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