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Omaha Magazine

Putting Children First

Mar 26, 2021 03:51PM ● By Scott Stewart
chanda in hard hat, hospital hallway

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

Chanda Chacón remembers the day a doctor changed her life.

As an 11-year-old, she was involved in a car crash that left her with chronic pain. Her parents spent two years shuffling her to various doctors until they eventually found a doctor who put his attention squarely on her.

The doctor told her that she needed a spinal fusion to repair two cracked discs in her lower spine. Pain-free at last, Chacón remembers the difference that doctor made—and laments the time it took for her family in environments not used to taking care of children.

“I wanted to help change what it felt like for families who had kids in health care,” Chacón said.

Chacón earned undergraduate degrees in biology and Spanish from Vanderbilt University, and a master’s degree in public health management from Yale University, where she interned at the
Mayo Clinic.

She spent 14 years in various positions at Texas Children’s Hospital, including as president of its west campus—Houston’s first community hospital designed for children. Chacón eventually left for Arkansas Children’s in Little Rock, where she helped expand statewide services as executive vice president and system chief operating officer.

A friend referred her to a recruiter looking to hire the next president and CEO of Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha. Initially, she wasn’t that interested. But she discovered the people at the Omaha hospital were engaged like no other organization she had ever encountered, and she realized she was in the right place in her career to make a difference.

“I couldn’t imagine not being a part of the next chapters we get to write here,” Chacón said. 

The first chapter is the opening of the Hubbard Center for Children this fall. The $410 million project along 82nd Street and West Dodge Road has 482,000 square feet devoted to neonatal intensive care, fetal care, cardiac care, oncology, surgery, radiology, and emergency care, as well as a rooftop helipad and additional space for future expansion.

The facility will add about 100 inpatient beds, allowing Children’s to avoid diverting patients—an issue it encountered this winter. Chacón said the addition will mean that her staff will “never say ‘no’ to a child,” especially those in need of complex treatments. 

Just as physical health is the foundation of whole health, so too is the physical infrastructure at Children’s the foundation for the organization’s overall mission.

“Buildings in and of themselves do not provide care to kids. People provide care to kids,” Chacón said. “The buildings just help us be more efficient and effective and make it easier for us to do that hard work that our team does every day.”

The additional capacity is being matched with a more efficient use of existing space, including shifting administrative offices to the former HDR campus west of the hospital. By rearranging spaces, clinical spaces are closer to labs and other patient services, while support staff can still have easy access using a skybridge that spans 84th Street.

“We moved as many offices out of our clinical space as we could.” Chacón said. “It doesn’t matter to a patient and family if my office is inside the hospital, but it certainly matters to a patient and family if their child gets diverted from here out of state because we don’t have enough clinical space.”

Children’s growth goes beyond its physical campus in midtown Omaha. Chacón said that the organization is strategically growing its primary care presence across the region, bringing its medical practice closer to where children live. 

In the age of coronavirus, telehealth visits have also expanded, allowing for check-ins and other visits to take place remotely, and making it easier to serve patients outside Omaha.

Chacón said Children’s also focused on growing its people. Over the past year, more than 30 clinical providers have joined its team, including several top-notch clinicians in areas such as neurosurgery, pediatric plastic surgery, anesthesiology, and pediatric surgery.

Dr. Oluwaseun Adetayo, division chief of pediatric plastic surgery at Children’s, said she was impressed by how kind the people were when she joined the hospital in February 2020.

“I really felt the sense of community and the passion of everyone I met during the interviews wanting to do the right thing for the kids,” said Adetayo, who is also a professor of surgery at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “The comprehensive services we provide and the fact that we are dedicated solely to pediatric care really sets Children’s apart.”

By putting people first in every decision, Chacón recognizes the importance of what happens in the broader community in terms of improving health outcomes for children.

“We know that the work we do in health care really only represents about 20% of health; 80% of health happens outside of the walls of a hospital,” Chacón said.

Children’s plans to prioritize partnerships with community organizations over the next several years, addressing policy areas such as food insecurity, housing, and education—the so-called social determinants of health.

“Health doesn’t happen only because of us taking care and waiting for sick kids to show up to us,” Chacón said. “We have to get further upstream and help organizations that are doing amazing work already about social determinants of health really be engaged and empowered and have us as a trusted partner.” 

Continued growth is what’s behind Chacón’s professional success, and it’s the aim as Children’s looks to continue pursuing its mission of improving the life of every child.

“If you’re standing still, you’re normally falling behind,” Chacón said. “Children’s here is independent, and it is freestanding, and that sets a unique tone. The priority is always about kids. It is always about how we can make this experience better for kids and their families.”

Under Chacón’s leadership, Children’s will continue to provide a kid-centered, family-friendly environment for delivering health care—offering the opportunity for others that Chacón wishes she had found sooner as a young person.

“We built the environment around families and those children,” Chacón said. “That, to me, is unique and absolutely would have changed the experience for me and my family had we been able to touch an organization like I get to be a part of here at Children’s.”

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This article was printed in the April/May 2021 issue of B2B Magazine.