Philanthropist supports Intermountain’s $500 million pediatric project

Intermountain Healthcare committed to fund at least half of a $500 million project that will bolster children-oriented programs and facilities, spurring a $50 million donation, the integrated not-for-profit health system announced Tuesday.

Salt Lake City-based Intermountain aims to build a second Primary Children’s Hospital campus in Lehi, Utah; expand telemedicine and digital services; increase the number of pediatric emergency clinicians in rural areas; grow Primary Children’s Hospital and its services in Salt Lake; and add behavioral health services.

Intermountain said it will fund at least half of the $500 million and tasked its foundation to raise the rest of the money. Gail Miller, who is chair of the Intermountain board and owner of Larry H. Miller Group of Cos. that includes the Utah Jazz basketball team, pledged $50 million.

Primary Children’s is the only pediatric hospital in the Intermountain West, which spans more than 400,000 square miles, said Katy Welkie, CEO of Primary Children’s Hospital and vice president of Intermountain’s Children’s Health. said Katy Welkie, CEO of Primary Children’s Hospital and vice president of Intermountain’s Children’s Health.

“Last winter, Primary Children’s had more patients than beds,” said Welkie, adding that the population is growing in Utah, particularly in the Lehi area. “That indicated a need to expand.”

The second pediatric hospital in Lehi will feature 66 beds across five stories. It will provide trauma, emergency, surgical and clinic services; behavioral health; and intensive care. Intermountain looks to boost its pediatric specialty care via telemedicine and by adding more emergency clinicians.

Primary Children’s in Salt Lake will expand its cancer treatment center and its pediatric research with University of Utah Health, as well as its Level 4 neonatal intensive care unit. Intermountain plans to develop an advanced fetal care center that will offer in-utero treatments such as fetal surgery.

Additional behavioral and mental health services for children and teens will be offered in new locations, call centers, telehealth and collaborations with community organizations, Intermountain said. It will also provide teen-to-adult transition programs for those with serious conditions. A new program will partner with school and community groups to help children who experience traumatic events. Fewer patients will go to the emergency department for mental healthcare thanks to a new assessment and referral center, Welkie said.

“The more we can treat kids in the lowest level of care possible, whether that is through home visits, telehealth into community clinics or follow-up care through telehealth, the less we have to burden the infrastructure of a hospital,” she said. Intermountain will also be consolidating certain service lines, which should boost quality, Welkie added.

Intermountain is investing in brick-and-mortar facilities in conjunction with supportive virtual care. It built a “virtual hospital” in 2018 that provides tele-stroke, tele-behavioral health and tele-trauma, among other services, with relatively minimal overhead. Although hospital executives have said that virtual care will not replace in-person treatment, they have touted the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of care that takes place outside of the hospital.

Skeptics worry that the cost of care will continue to rise as health systems add inpatient beds and services. Hospital care accounts for about a third of total healthcare spending.

“The intent right now is not to add a huge amount of capacity, but to address population growth,” Welkie said.

At the recent J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Intermountain said its finances remain strong with 367 days of cash on hand. According to its most recent annual report, Intermountain posted an operating income of $547.1 million on revenue of $7.72 billion in 2018, up from $359 million of operating income on $6.94 billion of revenue in 2017, according to Modern Healthcare’s financial database.