Historic Children’s Hospital Continues to Lead the Pack in Pediatrics

Children's Hospital Arial view
Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

Editor’s Note: After community outreach, Big Easy Magazine took the opportunity to talk to Children’s Hospital New Orleans in an effort to learn more about their services and impact on the community. Contributing writer, Danae Columbus interviewed Children’s Hospital Chief Executive Officer, John Nickens. 


DC:  What was the impetus for creating a hospital for crippled children in the 1950s? 

JN: Children’s Hospital was originally founded as a 53-bed rehabilitation facility for children, in 1955 during the polio epidemic. In the late 1940s, polio hit Louisiana with extreme force. Thousands of children and young adults were affected by the epidemic; if they survived the disease, they lived with its crippling effects. 

Local civic and business leaders joined polio survivor Elizabeth Miller Robin’s efforts to build a rehabilitation hospital for crippled children. Robin embarked on a mission that would forever change the face of pediatric healthcare in the region. 

On March 1, 1955 the new hospital was dedicated, representing the culmination of a 5-year effort on behalf of many passionate leaders and spirited contributors.  The modern facility was a “home-like” place for patients, whose average stay was one year. In its first two years, Crippled Children’s Hospital cared for children from 33 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes. 

Dr. Jack Strange, first president of the Crippled Children’s Hospital, and approximately 100 New Orleans physicians were appointed to the medical staff. Edna Koffskey, an RN who joined the nursing staff in 1955, was appointed as a hospital administrator in 1957 and worked at the hospital for the next 35 years. 

Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

DC: What led to the hospital’s name change to children’s hospital in the 1970’s?

JN: Vaccination efforts of the 50s and 60s eradicated Polio, the original catalyst for the “Crippled” Children’s Hospital. As such, and throughout the 1960s, as the nation moved toward expanding pediatric specialty care, the local demand for such services increased. In response, the hospital planning committee recommended expansion of the facility and its services in 1965. In the coming years, services including dentistry, and treatment for cystic fibrosis and scoliosis were added. 

Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

In 1970, plans were made to expand surgical capabilities for rehabilitative procedures, and inpatient accommodations for post-surgical care. By 1975, the facility was expanded into a full-service hospital and the name was changed to “Children’s Hospital”. In 1976, the surgery department and a two-station emergency department opened. 

Today, Children’s Hospital remains guided by its mission to be the regional center for children, providing comprehensive pediatric healthcare which recognizes the special needs of children through excellence and continuous improvement of patient care, education, research, child advocacy and management.


DC: Who does CH serve?

JN: For more than 60 years, Children’s Hospital New Orleans has delivered expert pediatric healthcare for children across our state and region. As Louisiana’s first and largest free-standing children’s hospital, we provide unmatched pediatric expertise, caring for children from all 64 parishes across Louisiana and beyond. 

Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

Today, Children’s Hospital New Orleans is a 222-bed, not-for-profit pediatric medical center offering a complete range of healthcare services for children from birth to 21 years. With over 40 pediatric specialties and more than 400 physicians, Children’s Hospital is the first and largest full-service hospital exclusively for children in Louisiana and the Gulf South.  This commitment to grow strong programs is driven by our mission to serve ALL children regardless of race, age, disease or ability to pay.

Today, Children’s Hospital’s patient population is 25% commercial insurance with the remaining 75% covered by Medicaid or no insurance.


DC: Does CH accept patients with no insurance?

JN: Yes. As the quaternary pediatric hospital serving the state of Louisiana, Children’s Hospital is proud to provide the highest level of pediatric care available to every child regardless of his or her family’s ability to pay for treatment, as we have done since our beginning. 


DC: What services does CH offer? 

JN: From the most complex pediatric procedures, to the everyday health of children and adolescents, Louisiana children and families can count on the extraordinary care provided by the pediatric-trained experts at Children’s Hospital.  

From our main campus in Uptown New Orleans, to satellite locations in Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Covington, Lafayette, and Metairie, and 13 pediatric primary care locations, we’re working to ensure that families across our state and region have access to specialized pediatric healthcare close to home. Children’s Hospital cares for children from all 64 parishes in Louisiana. 

Some of Children’s Hospital’s signature services include Mental and Behavioral Health, Neurology, Cancer Care, Critical Care, Dialysis & Renal Care, Emergency Care, Heart and Vascular Care, Pediatric Primary Care, Orthopedic Care, Rehabilitation, and Surgery. 

Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

DC: What is CH best known for?

JN: Children’s Hospital New Orleans is best known for our commitment to exclusively serve children.  This privilege allows Children’s Hospital to consider every operational decision and each dollar spent by first contemplating the impact to children.  A defined set of CHNOLA values amplify our mission by ensuring that the facility and the care provided are viewed through the lens of a child.  

Children’s Hospital is a regional center for children and its mission is to provide comprehensive pediatric healthcare which recognizes the special needs of children through excellence and continuous improvement of patient care, education, research, child advocacy and management.  It has been said that “kids are not little adults,” and Children’s Hospital has affirmed that statement through patient and family experience, unique pediatric training of the caregivers and facilities that honor the special needs of children.

Other hospitals across the state and Gulf South rely on the pediatric expertise found only at Children’s Hospital. When clinical professionals across the Gulf South need additional pediatric expertise, they request the lifesaving care of Children’s Hospital.  At least once a day that response is delivered by a specially designed pediatric critical care helicopter named Abby.   

Children’s Hospital is Louisiana’s first and largest full-service hospital exclusively for children, offering a full range of inpatient and outpatient care. Our Heart Center, Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, Behavioral Health Center, and Surgical Center offer some of the most specialized pediatric health services in the region. 


DC: How much does CH spend annually on new equipment to keep up with advances in medicine?

JN: A not-for-profit facility, Children’s Hospital is governed by an independent board of trustees made up of community volunteers. Revenue generated is used to operate the hospital and to expand and advance services. Each year, a capital budget is determined in collaboration with LCMC Health and hospital Board of Trustees members, and capital investments are determined based on hospital needs and strategic priorities. Each year, the hospital reinvests millions of dollars in equipment, infrastructure and people to stay on the forefront of pediatric healthcare.  As an academic medical center affiliated with LSU Health Sciences and Tulane University School of Medicine, Children’s Hospital has access to the latest cutting-edge technology and treatments. 


DC: CH is a teaching hospital. How does that work?

JN: Children’s Hospital is proud to be the only pediatric facility in the state of Louisiana to incorporate two academic pediatric medical programs under one roof. Through partnerships with LSU Health New Orleans and Tulane University School of Medicine, the vibrant academic medical community at Children’s Hospital provides unparalleled opportunities for educational enhancement, innovation, and improved access to high quality pediatric healthcare. Through this collaboration and partnership, we are innovating care delivery and training the next generation of pediatricians– which is exactly the kind of big thinking our children deserve. Children’s Hospital is proud to contribute to the next generation of healthcare providers with multiple training programs with physicians, nurses, technologists and scientists. In fact, more than 75% of the pediatricians in the state of Louisiana trained at Children’s Hospital New Orleans.


DC: How many patients does CH serve each year?

JN: Imagine on the average day Children’s Hospital cares for 140 inpatient children, and outpatient activity of 500 primary care visits, 450 specialty visits, 40 surgical cases, 130 emergency rooms visits and 100 virtual care visits.  

Recent annual activity for Children’s Hospital includes: 

Pediatric Primary Care visits: 141,498

Specialty Care visits: 106,371

Surgical Cases: 8,950

Average Inpatients per day: 139

Emergency visits: 52,254

Virtual care visits: 24,912 

Emergent Helicopter transports: 344

Total Emergent transports: 612

Care Center (child abuse pediatrics) 1,782 patients served  

Parenting Center Parent Reach: 800 parents per month

Doctor checking on patient
Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

 DC: Who comprises CH leadership team and what special skills do they bring? 

JN: Children’s Hospital has recruited administrative and physician leaders trained in top pediatric programs across the country, including Cincinnati Children’s, Harvard, Texas Children’s, Stanford, Phoenix Children’s, Duke, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Lurie Children’s, Emory, Vanderbilt, Cornell, and Pittsburgh. Combining the new perspectives of these leaders, with the strong, energized collection of LSU and Tulane pediatric experts has created a dynamic and distinct group of professionals ready to embark on our mission to deliver a healthier tomorrow for children.  

Our administrative leadership team includes:

myself, Chief Executive Officer, John Nickens, 

Chief Financial Officer, Lou Fragoso, 

Chief Clinical and Chief Nursing Officer, Jamie Wiggins, RN, 

Chief Operating Officer, Jonathan Brouk, 

VP Community Programs and Academic Affiliations, Natasha Richardson, 

VP Hospital Operations, Ben Whitworth, 

AVP Finance and Analytics, Jessica Cahill, 

AVP Hospital Operations, Lindsey Casey, RN, 

AVP Human Resources, Jill Fragoso, and 

AVP Patient Care Services, Lisa Labat, RN. 

Chief Executive Officer John Nickens
Chief Executive Officer John Nickens

Our leadership team is also comprised of pediatric trained medical leaders, including: 

Chief Medical Officer, George Bisset, MD, 

Surgeon-in-Chief, Ellis Arjmand, MD, 

Vice President of Physician Services, Amanda Jackson, MD, 

Chief Quality Officer, Leron Finger, MD, 

Chief Experience Officer, Scott Macicek, MD, 

and Pediatricians in Chief, Raymond Watts, MD and Samir El-Dahr, MD. 

These exemplary physician leaders, along with a medical staff comprised of over 400 pediatric-trained providers, is unmatched in our region. 


DC: The Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals reviews CH each year. How tough is it to keep standards high? 

JN: Quality and Safety is area of focus number one for Children’s Hospital. The Joint Commission is the recognized global leader for healthcare accreditation, and Children’s Hospital chooses The Joint Commission accreditation to pursue a commitment to excellence. The evaluation process includes an onsite visit every three years to assess compliance with standards and to verify performance improvement strategies. The hospital’s Quality and Safety team helps our organization maintain continuous survey readiness, and all team members are part of Children’s Hospital’s culture of safety.  Children’s Hospital has been recognized by the National Organization of Children’s Hospitals for outstanding clinical quality and consistent operations of safety for patients and team members 

The Joint Commission accreditation and certification is recognized nationwide as a symbol of quality that reflects an organization’s commitment to meeting certain performance standards. Children’s Hospital has also been recognized by the National Organization of Children’s Hospitals for outstanding clinical quality and consistent operations of safety for patients and team members. 


DC: Describe CH’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.

JN: Children’s Hospital has, since its founding, provided a single high standard of care to all children, regardless of race, language spoken, disability, ability to pay, or home zip code. Our vision to build a healthier, happier future for all children is inconsistent with racism or discrimination of any sort – toward patients, families, each other, or those in our community. As the first and largest children’s hospital serving Louisiana and the Gulf South, we are proud to continue our legacy of providing the highest quality of care to all patients, and lead the way toward a healthier and more equitable future. 

Among the many significant challenges in 2020, last year brought the racial injustice and social inequities that so many of our fellow Americans face into sharp focus. Last year, Children’s Hospital’s Walter Pierre Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee was formed to help guide our efforts to become a more inclusive and equitable workplace. LCMC Health has also created a system-level Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Steering Committee, and recently welcomed Dr. Mary “Toni” Flowers as Chief Diversity and Social Responsibility Officer to help further develop system-wide DEI strategies.


DC: What is the history of Children’s Hospital’s community programs, like the Parenting Center? How have these programs benefited the community?

JN: Children’s Hospital understands that transforming care for children happens beyond the walls of our hospital and clinics. Each year, Children’s invests over $12 million in community programs, including the Aubrey Hepburn CARE Center, The Parenting Center, ThriveKids Student Wellness Programs, Ventilator-Assisted Care Program, Cochlear Implant Program, Immunization Program, Miracle League, family housing and other community benefit programs. 

The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital serves as a resource center where parents can learn about child development and parenting skills, provides support where parents can discuss concerns with other parents and staff, and serves as a referral center where parents can receive direction to community resources. The Parenting Center also provides a place for young children to play and grow with their parents and other families, in addition to regular classes and support groups. 

Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

In 2018, The Parenting Center launched its “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” campaign in partnership with the Clinton Foundation’s “Too Small to Fail” initiative. The campaign teaches parents about the importance of about talking, reading, and singing with their children after birth. 


DC: How does CH work with the Ronald McDonald House?

JN: Children’s Hospital New Orleans and Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Louisiana (RMHC-SLA) announced plans in late 2019 to jointly fund a new, expanded family housing space on the Children’s Hospital campus. The $6 million project will expand the current Ronald McDonald House New Orleans program, bringing much-needed housing to families from across the state and region whose children receive vital medical services in New Orleans.

Upon completion of renovations to the new housing facilities which will break ground this Summer, RMHC-SLA will relocate its current 15-bedroom home located at 4403 Canal Street to the new space, which nearly doubles the available accommodations for families with an additional nine family rooms. The partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Louisiana will create expanded access to housing for those in need, providing peace of mind and respite for families, on our park-like campus that is specially designed for children and families. Our goal is to help alleviate some of the stress and to be a resource for families. 


DC: Volunteers have always been an integral part of CH. What role do they play?

JN: Children’s Hospital has a diverse group of more than 400 volunteers who selflessly devote thousands of hours each year to support the hospital staff and our patients and families. Whether playing with children during wait times or helping families find their way in the halls, the volunteers at Children’s Hospital make a difference providing a special human connection that often eases the stress for patients and families going through difficult times. Volunteers offer significant support in the hospital’s music and arts programs, bringing joy and enrichment to children throughout their time in the hospital. 


DC: Who funds CH?

JN: A not-for-profit facility, Children’s Hospital has no stockholders and no dividends to pay. Revenue generated through insurance reimbursement, government funding and investments is used to operate the hospital and to expand and advance services. 

Children’s Hospital also relies on the generous support of donors, whose contributions enable Children’s Hospital to provide critical care for the sickest children and babies, conduct life-saving research projects, serve families who otherwise could not afford quality healthcare, and remain at the forefront of pediatric healthcare advancements. 


DC: What role does CH’s board of directors play? 

JN: Children’s Hospital is governed by an independent Board of Trustees made up of community volunteers. The board is comprised of a diverse group of community leaders, led by current Board Chair Stephen Hales, MD. Dr. Hales was a trusted pediatrician in New Orleans for more than 40 years, caring for over thousands of children, and impacting generations.  That type of experience and engagement is reflected in all our Children’s Hospital board members.  

Dr. Tony Recasner served as Board Chair before Dr. Hales. A prominent and transformative leader in education, Dr. Recasner’s leadership was incredibly impactful. Additional outstanding leaders like Katie Crosby, Julie George, Ralph Brennan, and Betty Lauricella, to name a few, have served on Children’s board for many years, coupled with the passion and expertise of new members like Gregory St. Etienne and Ashleigh Gardere.  

The board is highly engaged in hospital operations, as well as budget and strategic planning, and members have played an integral role in seeing Children’s through the final stages of the hospital’s $300 million transformation and capital campaign. The Board of Trustees ensures Children’s ongoing commitment to excellence, patient safety, and a single, high standard of care for all children. Sub-committees of the board include finance, safety and quality, development, and community benefits.  


DC: CH’s original campus was small. How has CH managed growth to keep up with patient needs?

JN: The Children’s Hospital Board of Trustees and LCMC Health are making a significant investment in the future of pediatric healthcare, with an unprecedented, $300 million campus transformation underway. The expansion of our campus, completed by the end of 2021, will improve infrastructure and technology, and will also make it easier for patients and families across the region to access our vital services. 

Children's Hospital Arial view
Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

Our transformed campus includes 235,000 square feet of new clinical care space, enabling the expansion of our signature service lines – heart care, cancer care, surgical services, emergency and trauma care, neonatal and pediatric intensive care, and behavioral health – in an environment specially designed for children.

We are not only transforming our physical campus, at the same time we are building innovative programs, investing in technology and research, and recruiting some of our nation’s top pediatric providers to tackle the significant health challenges our kids and communities are facing. 

DC: What are CH’s expansion plans outside of Orleans Parish?

JN: While transforming our main campus in New Orleans, Children’s Hospital is at the same time focused on advancing pediatric healthcare across the state. Along with our robust virtual care platform which allows our providers to care for patients across the state anytime, anywhere, in 2020, we opened new, expanded multi-specialty clinics in Covington, Baton Rouge, Alexandria, and Metairie, improving access to highly specialized pediatric healthcare and bringing care close to home for families across Louisiana. We are committed to expanding access while delivering one high standard of care for children across the state. 

Later this year, Children’s Hospital will expand emergency services with a $4.4 million, 11,000+ square foot project that will bring a dedicated pediatric Emergency Room to the East Bank of Jefferson Parish, delivering expert, life-saving emergency care in an environment designed just for kids and families.


DC: What led to CH’s decision to create LCMC?

JN: In 2009, following the years recovering from Hurricane Katrina, Touro and Children’s Hospital partnered to form a two-hospital medical system, LCMC Health. LCMC Health was formed from Children’s Hospital, making it one of the only health systems in the country founded by a free-standing children’s hospital.  Children’s Hospital, as the founding organization, has influenced the patient-centric and community engagement culture that LCMC Health now embodies, delivering that little something extra for our patients and our community.  

Photo Courtesy of Children’s Hospital New Orleans

DC: How many hospitals and clinics are part of LCMC?

JN: Children’s Hospital is incredibly proud to be the founding member of LCMC Health, which today is a Louisiana-based, not-for-profit hospital system which also includes New Orleans East Hospital, Touro, University Medical Center New Orleans, West Jefferson Medical Center, and East Jefferson General Hospital. 

LCMC Health is on a mission to provide the best possible care for every person and parish in Louisiana and beyond, and to put a little more heart and soul into healthcare along the way. LCMC Health is built to serve the unique needs of our communities and families across New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and beyond. Children’s Hospital is incredibly proud to be part of this mission. 


DC: How does CH see the delivery of health care changing in the coming years?

JN: The pandemic has created additional barriers to healthcare access. New services, like virtual care and contactless registration, were adopted out of necessity, and virtual services to continue to expand. Our society leverages the benefits of technology now more than ever before. Health systems are innovating by delivering care virtually to patients at home and on demand. 

Pediatric medical care will also evolve to better utilize virtual services which are medically appropriate for the unique needs of children, as well as care delivery in places such as schools and other community-based satellite locations that bring care closer to home for families. Shaping a better tomorrow for kids means creating environments of health within our communities. 

Children’s saw an opportunity to better serve school communities in the midst of the pandemic, for example. The hospital launched ThriveKids, the Student Wellness Project, which allows Children’s to work collaboratively with schools across Louisiana to advance the health and well being of students by offering school-based virtual care, school nurse support, sports medicine, and mental and behavioral health services. 

Help Keep Big Easy Magazine Alive

Hey guys!

Covid-19 is challenging the way we conduct business. As small businesses suffer economic losses, they aren’t able to spend money advertising.

Please donate today to help us sustain local independent journalism and allow us to continue to offer subscription-free coverage of progressive issues.

Thank you,
Scott Ploof
Big Easy Magazine

Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *