HealthBridge Children’s Hospital: Joseph W. Rafferty, Chief Executive Officer

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The future of healthcare involves lower reimbursements, higher quality standards, and interdisciplinary teams caring for patients with complex or chronic conditions. HealthBridge Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas, has been operating in this model for more than a decade. The 40-bed specialty acute-care hospital runs efficiently, uses multidisciplinary teams to treat patients from birth to age 21, and has solid outcomes.

Nurturing a team-oriented environment

Chief Executive Officer Joseph Rafferty says the hospital’s success comes from the dedication of staff and physicians to treating a unique set of patients.

“We look for individuals who are aligned with the mission of our organization, are excellent at providing care, and who care deeply about our patients,” he said. “We have people who work together for the common good of these patients and their families. Many of our children have special needs, and these families have very difficult lives. We are honored to help these families.”

It is that sense of mission and dedication that Rafferty looks for in HealthBridge staff and providers. The physicians that come to the hospital are offered unique opportunities to build and run specialty programs. That opportunity has brought in physicians from Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas, a feat no other local children’s hospital has accomplished in Houston. Both medical schools also have resident and medical-staff participation in the hospital.

Excellence in specialty programs

What separates HealthBridge from other children’s hospitals, though, is the level of care it provides in specialty programs. The hospital has a step-down pediatric intensive-care unit, general pediatric beds, and an acute pediatric rehabilitation unit. This has allowed the HealthBridge team to focus on developing niche inpatient programs that add value to the community.

HealthBridge’s current inpatient programs include respiratory care, obesity, sleep medicine, wound care, behavioral pediatrics, and general medicine. In 2012, HealthBridge hopes to add palliative care and feeding to that list.

HealthBridge has also been excelling with quality outcomes for its specialty programs. Because of this, it has earned The Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval. For example, in the area of hospital-acquired ventilator-associated pneumonia rates, HealthBridge’s goal was 1.70, but as of November 2011, its year-to-date average was 0.00. For hospital-acquired urinary catheter/associated urinary-tract infections, HealthBridge set a quality goal of 3.50 with its YTD as of November 2011 being 0.00. And for its hospital-acquired pressure-related wound rate, the goal was 0.13, but November also saw a YTD average of 0.00.

But it’s not just the medical care that makes HealthBridge exceptional; it’s also the organization’s focus on behavioral disorders.

The hospital has been building a behavioral pediatric team and receives many patients referred from larger children’s hospitals who have complex medical issues and complex behavioral problems. These patients receive care for their medical conditions, but they are also treated by a behavioral team that includes a psychologist, psychiatrist, case manager, and others. HealthBridge has a full-time psychologist on staff, a factor that is extremely uncommon for most small community hospitals.

Operating within its means

While many organizations are dreading healthcare reform and are looking at ways to become more streamlined, HealthBridge has always had to work within its means to provide efficient, high-quality care. Like most children’s hospitals, about 70 percent of the patients are insured via some form of Medicaid.

“We are very concerned about the upcoming Medicaid reimbursement cuts,” Rafferty said. “Fortunately, we have always controlled our costs well, and as compared to other children’s hospitals, our costs are only a fraction of the cost to the Medicaid/Managed-Care Payers. The Payers will want to partner more and more with our facility as their budgets shrink. We are positioned well for the upcoming changes in the U.S. healthcare system.”

Working in teams and managing chronic conditions to avoid or limit re-admissions are also common goals healthcare organizations are working toward and goals that HealthBridge has been achieving since its opening in 1999.

“I believe we are a model for other hospitals,” Rafferty said. “We can all provide exceptional quality care to patients in an efficient, cost-effective manner.”

HealthBridge Children’s Hospital is part of the Nexus Health Systems, a provider of post-acute medical care and transitional care. Nexus was recently named one of the Houston Chronicle’s Top Workplaces. For more information or to make a referral, call (281) 293-7774 or visit their website at

-by Patricia Chaney

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