Children's Medical Center expands into Tarrant County

SOUTHLAKE -- When Denise Stone moved to Southlake from Boston last year, she wanted to find the best medical care for her son Billy, who is 13 and has diabetes.

And she didn't care how far she had to drive to get it.

"I would go anywhere," Stone said. "It was more about the level of care than any inconvenience."

By summer 2011, Stone won't have to go far for the same medical care her son gets at Children's Medical Center Dallas.

This week, the Dallas facility announced its first foray into Tarrant County with a $21 million, 34,000-square-foot specialty-care center in Southlake. Children's Medical Center will be on 10 acres along Texas 114 at White Chapel Boulevard and will serve patients in Southlake and within a 15-mile radius.

The facility won't have inpatient, overnight or emergency services, but physicians from the Dallas hospital will rotate to Southlake to provide cardiology, urology and other specialty services.

Stone said her son will miss less school and she won't have to drive as far.

"It's going to be fabulous," she said. "It will really enhance our greater sense of well-being knowing we have easier access."

It's no accident that Children's Medical chose Southlake.

The region is growing and so is the demand for medical care.

And it doesn't hurt that Southlake is one of the most affluent communities in North Texas, with median home prices exceeding $530,000.

Then there's the matter of expanding into an area long dominated by Cook Children's.

Stone said her choice of Children's Medical over Cook Children's was never intended as a slight to Fort Worth. When she asked for doctor recommendations, she asked only for Dallas physicians.

"Truthfully, I didn't ask about Fort Worth," she said.

By opening a facility in Southlake, Children's Medical is not trying to move into Cook territory, said Trent Smith, senior vice president of network development for Children's Medical Center.

"We have great respect for what Cook does for children in this region," Smith said. "We are not looking at this as a competitive strategy."

Cook Children's isn't worried about the Children's Medical Center expansion.

"Cook Children's has never been concerned about territory and who's in it," a statement from the Fort Worth-based hospital reads. "Our focus has always been about making sure medical services are available where needed most."

As an example, Cook Children's hematology and oncology clinics are in Grapevine because there was a need for those patients to stay close to home for treatment, the statement said.

Population growth

An expected baby boom over the next two decades has Children's Medical as well as Cook Children's looking for ways to meet a growing demand for care.

The pediatric population is expected to reach 2.6 million in Dallas-Fort Worth by 2019.

There's already evidence of the demand.

Last year, Children's Medical cared for 522 children from Southlake.

"We are looking at dramatic population growth," Smith said. "If we don't adequately prepare for this growth, we will be confronted with an overwhelming demand for services similar to what we had happen with H1N1."

To avoid a repeat of last fall, when hospitals, doctor's offices and clinics were overwhelmed with patients at the height of the H1N1 epidemic, Children's Medical Center opted to expand into Tarrant County.

"What's happening is the marketplace is growing so rapidly and population so significantly that we feel we need to be more accessible to kids, not just in Dallas or Plano but the region," Smith said.

Cook Children's is also seeing a growing demand for services.

The healthcare system serves children in a six-county area and will expand appropriately with the growth of north Tarrant County, it said in a statement.

Cook Children's has its Northeast Hospital and emergency room in Hurst, where it sees 20,000 children, performs 2,000 surgeries and has 1,000 specialty-clinic encounters each year.

Expanding to meet needs

The Southlake facility of Children's Medical Center will be in one of the most affluent areas of North Texas, but Smith said that doesn't mean that it will serve only the wealthy.

"We're one of the largest providers to Medicare in the region, and that always will be the case," Smith said. "We're a full-service organization trying to be responsive to all kids, two-thirds of which are on Medicaid or are uninsured."

In Tarrant County, 20.5 percent of children were enrolled in Medicaid in 2007, the most recent year with figures available, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities

Besides the Southlake facility, Children's Medical Center announced this month that it opened a 10-story tower on its main Dallas campus.

It's all an effort to prepare for the growth, Smith said.

"We're trying to be proactive so 10, 15, 20 years from now, we have the facilities and services in place to take care of all these kids and not get overwhelmed," he said.

JAN JARVIS, 817-390-7664