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With low doctor-patient ratios, what is pediatric healthcare like in Las Vegas?


Raising a child is an experience fraught with worries, joys, issues, and excitement.

For young children, one of the biggest worries for parents is health. They get colds, the flu, they need shots, and sometimes they have very serious health issues requiring special care.

And in Nevada, the lack of an adequate number of pediatric doctors, surgeons, and skilled care is an issue the state hasn’t come close to dealing with.

Depending on where you look, the state ranks between 46th and 49th in the number of pediatric doctors per capita.

Numerically, this plays out in a concerning way. There are 267 pediatricians in a state which the U.S. Census Bureau says is home to 640,000 children under 18. That comes to 2,617 children per one pediatrician. For context, California has half that ratio.

Advocates for a freestanding children’s hospital, which Las Vegas does not currently have, say that a unified facility could be the key to mending the community’s confusing and fragmented pediatric healthcare landscape.

It’s been reported that as many as 50,000 children who rely on Medicaid are forced to travel out of state every year for care.

“It's really a multifactorial issue,” said Chelsea Bishop, parent ambassador for the Children’s Advocacy Alliance of Nevada. “[Pediatric healthcare] is something that we haven't been focused on in this state. And I think that can change, especially as our population has grown. There's so much potential here.”

When Bishop’s eldest daughter, Navy, was diagnosed with advanced neuroblastoma, she had to travel to Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Houston, and San Francisco for treatment. The emotional and financial burden took it’s toll.

“I needed to quit my job,” Bishop said. “It is a really big strain on families. And they're really feeling the cost of having to travel when our state should be able to provide these services in-state.”

To help parents like Bishop, non-hospital level providers, like the Silver State Pediatric Skilled Nursing Facility, have popped up. Silver State’s CEO, Daniel Mathis, said it has 36 beds, and provides round-the-clock care for children.

“It could be anything,” said Mathis, about the kinds of ailments he sees. “We've had everything from falling out of a window, to gunshot wounds, and car wrecks on the trauma side. And then for the birth defect side, we deal with whatever the families have, so there's Down Syndrome, and there's a lot of other diagnoses that we deal with. So really, anybody that's in complex care, we can handle.”

For kids with disabilities, like Down Syndrome or autism, finding local healthcare services can be even more challenging.

Down Syndrome Connections Las Vegas aims to alleviate this by connecting families with events, resources, and care both locally and out of state.

However, Lisa Holmquist, the nonprofit’s founder, said that the lack of quality healthcare for local children has been a challenge to navigate.

“A lot of times we are confronted with the fact that we can't easily connect our families,” Holmquist said. “We just had one family who moved to Colorado. They were so active [in Down Syndrome Connections]. The mom and dad put together Caleb's Law [in Nevada], which handles people who have any kind of disability and made them eligible for heart transplants. So, we lost a really great family that was adding to the state of Nevada in a great way, because their child with Down Syndrome could not get the care he needed — and they moved.”

There is a movement to get a freestanding children’s hospital built. To that end, Holmquist and Bishop founded Act 4 Kids Nevada. They hope to grow support throughout the state so that their motto, “action now for tomorrow’s future” becomes a reality for Nevada’s children.

Guests: Chelsea Bishop, parent, registered nurse, and parent ambassador, Children’s Advocacy Alliance; Daniel Mathis, CEO, Silver State Pediatric; Lisa Holmquist, founder, Down Syndrome Connections Las Vegas

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.