Kenneth Bird (copy)

Kenneth Bird

The writer, of Omaha, is president/CEO of Avenue Scholars and former chair of Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.

Margaret Doorly was furious. The year was 1942, and the wife of Omaha World-Herald Publisher Henry Doorly had been admitted to the hospital for a brief illness. Upon discharge, she witnessed a mother and father who couldn’t afford the $10 deposit required for their child to be seen by doctors. They were about to be turned away for care when Mrs. Doorly offered to pay the fee. According to a former World-Herald editor, Hollis Limprecht, she went home “throwing sparks” and told her husband something needed to be done for Omaha children in need of health care.

This chance encounter helped launch a community-wide effort to open a children’s hospital — a special place devoted to the care of children where no one would ever be turned away due to an inability to pay. Children’s Memorial Hospital opened its doors in 1948; today, we know it as Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. More than 70 years ago, a simple truth rallied our community toward opening its own children’s hospital: Children deserve our very best. As a lifelong educator and champion for children, this conviction has been at the heart of my life.

I couldn’t help but reflect on this story as I watched the final steel beam be placed atop Children’s Hubbard Center for Children last month. Set to open in 2021, the Hubbard Center is a project born of necessity. In the last few years, there have been times when Children’s has had to turn children away due to lack of space. This was not acceptable to Children’s, it shouldn’t be acceptable to our community and, I think it’s safe to say, it would not have been acceptable to Mrs. Doorly. Children’s is enhancing its physical and clinical capabilities to better serve children — not for growth’s sake, but rather from a firm belief it’s the right thing to do for children and from a desire to continue to serve this community well for generations to come. As I watched the beam’s installation, I was struck by how much — and how little — has changed since 1948.

Perhaps the greatest change is health care itself; health care is evolving rapidly at an accelerating pace. Today, health care is more advanced, specialized, complicated, competitive and costly — particularly in pediatrics. Pediatric resources are rare, and put at risk by unnecessary duplication and fragmentation. The team at Children’s will tell you they’re caring for sicker children than ever before with conditions more chronic, complex and critical than most of us can imagine. Thanks to research, innovation and an institution that has refused to settle for the status quo, children who would not have survived in 1948 are able to thrive here in 2019. No longer a community hospital, Children’s is a nationally recognized pediatric leader that serves children from a five-state region and across the country.

Children’s is our only full-service pediatric hospital, and its quality, depth and breadth of specialty expertise is unrivaled. I don’t think most of us realize how lucky Omaha is to have such a world-class resource given our area’s relative population. A strong children’s hospital is a critical community asset, and it is to our detriment if we take such a treasure and such a team for granted.

Many things have not changed since 1948. Omaha is still a community known for its generosity, values and vision. Children’s is still focused on its powerful mission: To improve the life of every child. And, of course, children still deserve our best intentions and efforts; they are worthy of our investment and support. Children — the smallest, most vulnerable among us — are our collective future. Nelson Mandela’s famous quote rings true: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Children’s Hospital & Medical Center is doing the right thing for the long-term health and prosperity of our community and, more importantly, the right thing to do for the children and families whose lives truly depend on it.

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