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Children’s Hospital of Illinois: Providing Comprehensive Pediatric Care

Michael Wells | Children's Hospital of Illinois | Pediatric Care
Children's Hospital of Illinois

As one might assume that working in the pediatrics department of healthcare is easy and wonderful, but it isn’t always like that. Despite the patient population being all children, there are several challenges that pediatricians face while working in a children’s healthcare unit. These challenges range from managing the family members to dealing with emotional trauma.

OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois is an organization situated in Peoria, IL that understands these critical challenges faced by the pediatrics department. As a premier children’s hospital, it addresses all these challenges and takes care of the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of the pediatric patients.

With an army of compassionate healthcare professionals, the hospital is spearheaded by Michael Wells, the President of OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois.

In the following interview, Michael expresses how the hospital has been delivering the highest quality of healthcare services since its inception.

Please brief our audience about OSF HealthCare, its values, and its Mission. 

OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois is a 136-bed, full-service children’s hospital. With more than 140 specialists representing more than 40 subspecialties, we provide the highest level of care for newborns to young adults with common and complex medical conditions.

Our Mission is to serve with the greatest care and love in a community that celebrates the gift of life. Our vision at OSF Children’s Hospital is to lead pediatric health through clinical excellence, innovation, research, education, and family-focused care. Our core values are justice, compassion, teamwork, integrity, employee wellbeing, supportive work environment, trust, stewardship, and leadership.

What is your opinion on the impact of the current pandemic on the global healthcare sector, and what challenges did your organization face during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns? 

Relative to the adult population, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on pediatric patients has been less severe in terms of symptoms, the need for high-end inpatient care, and death. As a result, we did not experience the severe surge of COVID patients in our children’s hospital and related impact on bed and ventilator capacity, nor did we experience the negative toll on the workforce that the adult hospitals experienced.

However, there are a few areas that have significantly impacted our organization. First, early in the pandemic, elective procedures were suspended, and the public was advised to consider alternatives to visiting emergency departments. As a result, our surgical volumes and emergency department visits dropped to about 50% of typical volumes.

In addition to concerns about the potentially negative health impact of delayed procedures and postponed emergency department visits for those in need, the sudden and drastic drop in patient volume created a significant gap in revenue and challenge in managing staffing that required some furloughs and redistribution of pediatric staff to other roles.

Second, during the lockdown and subsequent months with significant precautions in place, we saw an overall decrease in the types of issues that most commonly result in children utilizing the healthcare system; primarily infectious illness, injuries resulting from recreational activities, sports, and motor vehicle accidents as well as routine visits to physicians for back-to-school physicals and routine follow up for chronic conditions.

Pediatric volumes were slower to recover than in adult healthcare, only seeing a return to pre-pandemic volumes in the past few months. In addition, along with most other children’s hospitals across the nation, we continue to see an increase in behavioral health concerns. We can assume that the stress of the pandemic contributed to an increase in depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

The result has been a higher number of children in the hospital for medical reasons with co-occurring mental health issues. The need has far outpaced the availability of medical, psychiatric hospitals. As a result, patients are in our children’s hospital, sometimes for long periods after their medical issues are resolved, waiting for an inpatient bed at a psychiatric hospital.

Finally, and on a more positive note, during the pandemic, we deployed new digital tactics to ensure patients could receive care safely, such as telephone and televideo medical visits. At one point, nearly half of all visits were done via televideo, enabling us to improve our systems and processes to support virtual care.

With constant development in medical technologies, in your opinion, what could be the future of childcare services?   

Medical technology is advancing more rapidly than at any time in history. OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois recently developed an innovation discovery lab through which we scan the market to identify and test innovative products to improve the way we deliver care.

Two examples are the adoption of a virtual reality platform to allow surgeons to interact with 3-D images of the heart and other organs to help plan surgical intervention and a new product we are exploring for use in post-acute care that allows for remote monitoring of patient vitals from anywhere.

In addition to the adoption of new technology, no doubt the use of televideo will continue to improve and be utilized as a means of convenient access to care. We are likely to see further advancements in medical imaging and treatment, such as cardiac and neurological imaging and procedures that can be done via a catheter as opposed to invasive surgery. These advances will continue to drive the shift of care from inpatient to outpatient settings.

Finally, treatment advances are resulting in a higher survival rate among children with chronic, complex illnesses. More and more, children with complex congenital illnesses are thriving. As they become adults, they require the care of subspecialists who specialize in caring for adults with congenital illnesses.

As a result, at OSF Children’s Hospital, we are expanding our adult congenital programs as well as transitional programs so that children and families experience a smooth transition from pediatric to adult care.

As an established leader, what would be your advice to the budding healthcare professionals aspiring to venture into the childcare niche?  

While leadership in healthcare in and of itself is rewarding, there is no work more rewarding than that which makes a difference in the life of a child. In children’s healthcare, we have the opportunity to help change the trajectory of life by helping children at any stage of health or illness live beyond limits.

How do you envision scaling your organization’s operations in 2022 and beyond? 

We will leverage resources and expertise to respond to two strong trends in pediatric healthcare. The first is the shift from inpatient care in community hospitals to children’s hospitals. We are unique in that there is no other hospital within a 3-hour radius that provides the level of complex care for children that we do.

We plan to leverage that expertise to support care close to home where safe and appropriate and expand programs to ease the burden for families that need to travel to the children’s hospital for inpatient stays or procedures. We provide televideo consultation to a dozen community hospital emergency departments and hold outpatient specialty clinics in 15 communities. We plan to expand both strategies.

The second trend is the shift from inpatient to outpatient care. To strengthen the quality of care as well as referral channels across the continuum of care, we are deploying strategies to formalize partnerships with pediatricians across the state of Illinois to provide medical education, informal physician to physician consultation, patient navigation, and establish best practice care guidelines for common childhood conditions such as Asthma.

What is your opinion on the adoption of modern technologies such as AI and ML in the healthcare space?

There are a lot of opportunities and much to be learned about the effective implementation of artificial intelligence and machine learning in healthcare. Our industry has been slower to adopt AI and ML than other industries. Some of that may be due to the emphasis on clinical intuition in the treatment of illness as well as the challenges with keeping up with changing protocols and best practices in AI-supported clinical decision-making.

At OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois, we have begun work in this area with success through the implementation of AI regarding predictive analytics related to reducing the length of hospital stays and readmissions. There is a growing body of evidence to support the implementation of AI and ML in developing effective algorithms to improve patient engagement and adherence to treatment for long-term, chronic issues. This is something we have begun to explore, especially related to social determinants of health.

Finally, there seems to be growing evidence and interest in the incorporation of AI and ML into genomic medicine. We have had very positive experiences in our NICU with the use of genomic sequencing to support diagnosis and to fully inform parents in making decisions regarding care. It seems like a natural progression to incorporate AI into this process for effectively planning treatment in settings like the NICU and even in other settings such as cancer care.

Exhibiting Brilliance

  • State-designated Level I Pediatric Trauma Center – the highest level of care available
  • The first state-designated Pediatric Critical Care Hospital
  • proven world-class outcomes in the NICU as a member of the Vermont Oxford Network
  • Most comprehensive downstate Perinatal Center (post-birth care)
  • Level IV NICU – the highest level of care available. The NICU also offers a Small Baby Unit – one of the first in Illinois – caring for babies born before 30 weeks gestation
  • Home to the only Pediatric Diabetes Resource Center and Congenital Heart Center in downstate Illinois
  • Cares for more children in Illinois than any hospital between St. Louis and Chicago, with 7,000 admissions, 2,500 new-born deliveries, and 18,000 emergency department visits annually
  • Ranked one of the most technologically advanced children’s hospitals in the world by Top Master’s in Health Care Administration
  • OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois was recognized among the top three children’s hospitals in Illinois and among the top 25 in the Midwest region for 2021-2022 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois is one of the first ten clinical research centers to join the ASH Research Collaborative Cell Disease Clinical Trials Network

Compassionate Leader

Michael Wells began his career as a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor providing mental health counseling to children and families. Soon after beginning practice, his path shifted to non-profit administration. He has been with OSF HealthCare Children® Hospital of Illinois since 2005 and has served in various leadership roles, including program and business development, system-wide quality improvement, strategic planning, and, immediately prior to becoming president; he served as vice president of operations. Wells has served as president since 2019.



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