After beginning his career at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, Paul Kramer was enticed by the Peoria medical community to take up the reigns as executive director of Children’s Hospital of Illinois. Why did he make the change? “I saw this as an opportunity to build a children’s hospital from its initial stages,” he explained, “and that appealed to me.”
Kramer grew up in Sykesville, a coal mining town in western Pennsylvania. Along with two brothers, he graduated from Dubois High School and went on to major in marketing and management at Penn State, where he met his wife, Marsha.
He began his career with the industrial engineering division at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. After spending a year working at a hospital in India, Kramer returned to Children’s Hospital and became director of Outpatient Services. During the next 24 years, he advanced to assistant administrator, COO, and CEO. Kramer became executive director of Children’s Hospital of Illinois in November 1997.
Kramer and his wife, who reside in Germantown Hills, have three grown children and four grandchildren.
Sister Judith Ann Duvall, OSF, is president of OSF Healthcare System. She earned degrees in nursing from Northern Illinois University in Dekalb and business management and administration from Bradley University. Her career has included serving in the premature nursery at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and working as a Medical and Surgical Unit nursing supervisor at OSF Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center in Pontiac.
(The following questions were answered by Paul Kramer.)
What influenced your decision to go into health care administration?
After graduating from Penn State, I worked in investment research for a bank in Pittsburgh. I enjoyed the work, but it wasn’t really all that fulfilling. I became aware of work being done at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, which was the first U.S. hospital with an industrial engineering division. I was intrigued, and it met my need to feel that I was helping others, so I began working in the industrial engineering division.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that if I wanted to do more in the hospital field, I would need to get my Masters in Health Administration (MHA). I completed my Masters degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1970.
Did you begin working in the hospital field then?
Yes, but not in Pittsburgh. After completing my MHA, I became aware of a Baptist mission that organized short-term mission assignments. I spent a year in Alchalput, India, working to help transfer the mission hospital over to Indian ownership.
The hospital in India was primitive compared to those in the U.S. We had a used X-ray machine purchased from a U.S. hospital. It took about 50 of us to move the machine, and everyone had to clear the area when we took an X-ray because there was no shielding. The patients cared for in this hospital suffered from cholera, typhoid, rabies, tuberculosis, and snake bites. A sister hospital nearby cared for leprosy patients.
Are there common challenges for children’s hospitals around the country?
Recruiting pediatric specialists is the most common challenge nationwide. There are a limited number of pediatric specialists, and Peoria isn’t yet a world-renowned facility that can attract these physicians by its name alone. It takes a little extra work to get them here, but once they’re here, it’s easier to sell. People want to work with good people, so as you build your team, the team itself is an attraction for more specialists.
A second challenge is the ongoing need for nurses. For us, the greatest need is for intensive care nurses. It’s a very stressful area to work. Often a nurse either loves it and makes a career of it, or shortly decides he or she can’t handle the stress and looks for another position.
Of course, there are constant financial and reimbursement issues for all children’s hospitals.
What are the specific challenges and needs for Children’s Hospital of Illinois?
Children’s Hospital has all of the needs I just mentioned, with additional challenges.
We need more critical care beds for both adults and children. Our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit are often at capacity, and occasionally we have to divert patients to Rockford, Chicago, St. Louis, or Iowa City. Each year, we divert 100 or more children to these locations. We don’t like to do that, as it’s a hardship on the family to have a child hospitalized far from home.
The people of Peoria need to know how good health care is right in their own backyard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard we’re “pretty good for Peoria.” That’s not true. We’re excellent, period.
Finally, we don’t have a hospital all in one place. Our services are scattered in multiple locations on the OSF Saint Francis campus.
How will the building project address these concerns? What’s the schedule?
Children’s Hospital of Illinois and OSF Saint Francis Medical Center are proposing a $234 million expansion and modernization called the Milestone Project. When complete, this project will allow us to bring the latest in health care technology and service to our patients. It will bring all Children’s Hospital services to one convenient location. Specifically, the new building will provide us with:
• A new Children’s Hospital of Illinois. The new Children’s Hospital will have expanded Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care units, private pediatric rooms, and much more.
• An expanded Emergency Department. The number of patients we’ve treated in our Emergency Department has doubled since 1986. As a result, the Emergency Department will expand and be updated to better care for patients, including separate space for treating adults and children.
• Roomier surgery suites. While technology has grown in capability over the years, this advanced technology has greater space needs. The expansion will create more efficient surgery suites for both adult and pediatrics patients to accommodate this advanced technology.
• More convenient cardiac services. All cardiac services eventually will be moved to one location. Many of our cardiac tests and treatments will be located in the same area.
Where will this addition be located?
We’re adding on to the north end of the Gerlach Building in the space where the parking deck is located now. That deck will be torn down as soon as the replacement deck, now under construction, is complete. When the Milestone Project is complete, the main entrance to our campus will be off Pennsylvania Avenue. This new campus entrance will greet visitors to the medical center, with separate areas for children and the families. But the true welcome will be found in the details—a quiet, healing environment, patient- and family-centered rooms, and accessible caregivers all in an easy-to-navigate space.
What, if any, are the misperceptions regarding the building project?
The most important thing to clear up is that Children’s Hospital isn’t going to be a stand-alone facility. We’re a partner with OSF Saint Francis for financial, equipment, and technology needs. For example, not many children’s hospitals can afford to purchase a robot for surgery. We’re a leader in robotic surgery for children because we have OSF Saint Francis as our partner. Another example is Life Flight. Not many children’s hospitals are able to have a helicopter program with two helicopters. Yet this partnership enables us to transfer critically ill and injured children to us in a very speedy manner. In 2005, more than 300 children came to us via Life Flight.
Additionally, of all of the pediatric specialists in Peoria, nearly all of them practice exclusively at Children’s Hospital. That means we need to have the full scope of services available at one location. We offer services here that can’t be performed anywhere else in Peoria.
How will the building project be funded?
The majority of the funding will be provided by OSF HealthCare System, our parent organization, by borrowing. A capital campaign will be announced later in 2006 for a portion of the cost. A goal for that campaign hasn’t been established.
There were earlier discussions of using another medical facility for Children’s Hospital. Why is that not a viable option?
We investigated other options besides staying on the OSF Saint Francis campus. It turns out there would be significant costs incurred if we couldn’t share support services with OSF Saint Francis—services such as medical records, housekeeping, maintenance, food service, etc. In fact, the annual cost of duplicating support services would be about $40 million.
In addition to these extra costs, we would lose the proximity to the College of Medicine, which is now within walking distance of our hospital, and where many of our physicians teach and do research.
What is the relationship between OSF and UICOMP?
Our relationship with the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Peoria is essential. Every children’s hospital of note is affiliated with a medical school. You need to have a strong academic and research function to recruit the best specialty physicians. Being a teaching facility puts us on the cutting edge of medicine. Our resident physicians stimulate the faculty to constantly improve.
Pediatrics is the largest department at the College of Medicine. Our mission is very attractive to residents; it’s why many of them went into medicine in the first place. We definitely wouldn’t exist at the level we do today without the medical school.
From where does Children's Hospital draw patients?
If you draw a line across the state at I-80, going from border to border, that 30-county area is our primary service area. We care for children from nearly all Illinois counties.
What are some of the reasons for increased need for Children’s Hospital specialists?
As medicine becomes more specialized, there’s a corresponding need for specialty physicians who focus on just one or two areas of care. For example, there are so many children alive and well today who never would have lived even 10 years ago. These children, whether multiple births, low birth weight, or with serious medical complications, require very specific skills to sustain life. Being able to offer the full complement of care 24/7 also increases our need for specialists.
What’s surprised you most about working at Children’s Hospital of Illinois?
The staff here at Children’s Hospital has a level of dedication I haven’t seen elsewhere. There’s a cohesiveness of purpose, which I believe is closely tied to the Sisters’ mission, that reminds us daily of why we’re here: to serve and care for all children.
What would you like our readers to know that hasn’t been asked?
As I said, the most motivating factor for myself and all of us at Children’s Hospital is the Sisters and their mission. Sister Judith Ann tirelessly devotes herself to the Ministry Development program for our leadership. She makes the mission come alive and gives each of us personal ownership in that mission. It’s a privilege to work for an organization with these Christian roots—one that truly puts the needs of our patients above all else.
(The following questions were answered by Sister Judith Ann Duvall.)
Tell a little about your health care background.
I can remember growing up in an environment where my parents had the greatest respect for those who served in the health professions. I always wanted to be a religious and to give my life to God and spend my life in service to others. When my religious community asked me to pursue a degree in nursing from Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, I was so pleased. I served in the premature nursery at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center as a student nurse between semesters. Upon graduation in 1972, I was a nursing supervisor over Medical and Surgical units at OSF Saint James-John W. Albrecht Medical Center in Pontiac. In 1982, I completed a degree in business management and administration from Bradley University. Even though I haven’t practiced the art of nursing directly with patients for many years, the nurse in me is very much alive and will always be an essential part of who I am. In 1989, I was given the wonderful opportunity to serve on the board of OSF HealthCare System, a position I hold to this day.
How did you become involved with Children’s Hospital of Illinois?
In 1992, I was invited to participate in the Children’s Miracle Network Telethon, an annual fundraising event of Children’s Hospital, by answering a phone during the live telecast. Participants were encouraged to solicit at least $500 in advance. I accepted, and the fire has never left me. In 1998, I became a member of the Children’s Hospital Community Advisory Board and the Development Committee for that board. By 2000, I had reached a milestone total of $100,000 raised through the generosity of many wonderful individuals; by 2005, it was in excess of $380,000. What I find most rewarding is seeing the joy that giving brings to the lives of others. My privilege is to link caring and wonderful individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of children to an opportunity to accomplish just that. How can that not bless both of our lives?
What have you seen during your time on the Children’s Hospital board?
When I think of the Children’s Hospital Community Advisory Board members, I can’t help but smile from the inside out. I’ve shared their journey as a board member for the past eight years. They’re some of the most spirited and passionate individuals I’ve ever known. You’d think each child we cared for was their child. Through their unbelievable energy and commitment, they’ve built and sustained strong relationships with the communities we serve, advocated for children at the local and state level, and facilitated fundraising that’s enabled our Children’s Hospital to acquire the most advanced life support equipment and technology available for the care of children. They truly leave a rich legacy through their service to us—a legacy that will bless the lives of children well into the future. They’re truly family to our Sisters, helping us ensure God’s children are loved and cared for as God loves and cares for us.
Do you sense support in the community for this project?
Unquestionably, I would answer “yes.” I’ve often visited hospitalized children and their families and spoken with individuals in the community whose child was hospitalized in the past. So frequently I hear comments like, “Everyone is so good to our child and to us.” “We were treated like family.” “They are angels.” “They can’t do enough for us.” “What would we ever have done without them?” “Thank God the Children’s Hospital is here. I wouldn’t want my child to be anywhere else!”
When I share stories from our Children’s Hospital with others, stories of tiny little lives safely nurtured back into the arms of their families, people want to be a part of making these miracles happen. When I see caregivers take time during their demanding work schedules to pick up the child they care for and hold them in their arms and rock them, I see affirmed the value of why we’re here. When I see our caregivers form a circle of love around a family as a child dies, and how that circle celebrates the life of that precious child, I know our Children’s Hospital must be here for each and every child who needs us.
The tremendous generosity of donors over the years to Children’s Hospital and OSF Saint Francis is a strong testament to the wonderful people of our community. They recognize the value of our presence and the service we bring to human life. They want to be part of that presence and to walk with our Sisters to assure an even brighter future for those we’re here to serve.
How does the Milestone Project tie in with the mission and vision of the Sisters?
Our foundress, Mother M. Frances Krasse, and our early Pioneer Sisters first arrived in Peoria in 1877 to begin caring for the sick. They made a promise to God never to turn anyone away He sends to them for care. In the dying words of our foundress, our core mission would always be to “nurse the sick with the greatest care and love.” For 129 years, our Sisters have remained faithful to that promise.
Over the years, we’ve experienced an increasing demand for our services from the communities we serve and have been able to grow with those needs thanks both to our ability to be good stewards of our resources and to the generosity of those who’ve given of their time and financial resources to make that possible. Now it’s time for us to step up and achieve a new milestone if we’re to remain faithful to our promise and fulfill our mission.
We want to be here for those who need us for generations to come. God asks this of us. Human life is precious and sacred. Our communities deserve the best. It’s our profound privilege and blessing to serve with the greatest care and love.
We must and can achieve this Milestone together with the communities we serve and, together, build a future we all can be proud of. A promise kept, lives touched for good, and our own lives blessed as we reach out to those in need: what more wonderful legacy could we ever leave? IBI