El Paso Children’s Hospital celebrates 5 years

The road has not been always smooth, but El Paso Children’s Hospital has kept its eyes on the road ahead.

“You think about a fifth birthday as a milestone celebration, but for us it is a great opportunity to hit reset,” Children’s Hospital’s President and CEO Mark Amox said Tuesday. He was hired to lead the pediatric hospital in September 2016.

“This is us going forward and telling the story that El Paso Children’s Hospital is strong,” Amox said.

Physicians, nurses, volunteers and staff on Tuesday joined Amox and other hospital leaders, as well as families who the hospital has helped, to celebrate Children’s fifth anniversary of providing pediatric care in the region.

The independently licensed non-profit hospital, which operates in the building owned by University Medical Center of El Paso, had a bumpy start since it opened on Valentine’s Day 2012.

A financial dispute over $106 million in rent and services owed to UMC landed the hospital in bankruptcy court in 2015. The litigation culminated with a settlement, relieving the hospital of $58 million, much of it in unpaid rent. The remaining $48 million is being addressed on a year-by-year basis.

Since then, the hospital has had a stronger relationship with UMC and has improved its finances, Amox said. The hospital is budgeted for a break-even year—about $100 million in net revenue, he said.

Dr. Chetan Moorthy, chief of staff at Children’s Hospital, described the hospital’s first five years as a “tough childhood.”

“A little bit of bullying, a little bit of illness, things that makes a kid though, and that is where we are right now,” he said.

Moorthy said the hospital continues to provide quality health care to children without the need to travel outside the city.

Currently the state-of-the-art facility has a pediatric Intensive Care Unit and a pediatric Hematology and Oncology Unit, among other features. It has also grown to over 40 pediatric subspecialties, providing services to more children, officials said.

Voters in November 2007 approved a $120 million bond to build and equip the pediatric hospital.

n 2016, the hospital had more than 3,300 children admitted and 22,000 children come through its emergency department, compared to 2,400 and 9,400, respectively, in 2012, officials said.

One of those children is 7-year-old Elijah Garay.

Nearly three years ago, he came into the hospital’s emergency room with a high fever and debilitating body pain that had lingered for about a week — symptoms that his pediatrician and doctors at three other clinics attributed to a common flu.

At Children’s Hospital, Elijah was diagnosed with HLH syndrome, a rare life-threatening disease of the immune system. He was treated with chemotherapy and steroids.

Elija’s father, Michael, said knowing why his son was hurting was a relief despite the diagnosis.

“It was a living nightmare,” he said.

Elijah is now in remission. Every four months, he goes to the pediatric hospital for blood work to check on his “big germ,” as he calls the disease.

“The doctors here made me feel better,” Elijah said. “I hope they keep making feel better other kids with germs, too.”

Lorena Figueroa may be reached at 546-6129; lfigueroa@elpasotimes.com; @LFigueroaEPT on Twitter.