The Columbus Regional Medical Foundation has received $1.5 million -- its largest donation ever -- toward completion of a new Pediatric Emergency Department at The Medical Center that is scheduled to open June 12.
Aflac President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Amos II and his wife, Courtney, said they made the contribution in honor of Dr. Kathryn Cheek, a Columbus pediatrician who is among those who have long pushed for improvement of child care in the community.
"She's just really led the way as an incredible advocate for children," said Courtney Amos, a member of the Columbus Regional Medical Foundation board of directors. "She's a beacon of hope and light and all things good. It's just wonderful to have an opportunity to recognize her for her leadership and vision."
Cheek, who has practiced locally for 27 years and is with Rivertown Pediatrics, said the effort to improve pediatric emergency care began in a strategic planning committee four years ago. And she said the results are going to be dramatic.
"This is the beginning. This is the transformation. You're going to see the ball start rolling," she said of the new department, which will have doctors and specialists trained specifically for treating urgent injuries and illnesses among children.
"I think everybody sees the need, everybody wants to elevate our health care to this level," Cheek said. "We are just so fortunate and blessed to have people like Courtney and Paul Amos that are generous enough to provide this gift as a catalyst and a stimulus."
The current Emergency and Trauma Center at The Medical Center sees roughly 50,000 patients each year, about 10,000 of those children. But youngsters often can be competing for care with adults seeking critical care of their own.
The new 5,080-square-foot Pediatric Emergency Department will be adjacent to the Emergency and Trauma Center, but with its own entryway and waiting room. There will be seven treatment rooms with cardiac monitors, one exam room and equipment scaled down for treating kids of various ages.
"We know coming to an emergency room is scary and traumatic," Cheek said. "We have to work to provide a system in a setting in which a child feels comfortable, and one that can be as pain free as possible. We need to work to make sure it's a great experience."
The Pediatric Emergency Department is the first phase of a $35 million renovation and expansion of The Children's Hospital at The Medical Center. About $20 million has been raised already, with a campaign to bring in the $15 million balance being launched Saturday.
Ryan Chandler, chief executive officer of The Medical Center, said construction should begin this fall on The Children's Hospital, which will be on the fifth floor of The Medical Center. It will take 12 to 18 months to complete, providing 20 private beds that can be converted to semi-private in times of high demand. An elevator will be dedicated to moving young patients and families from the new emergency department straight to the pediatric patient rooms.
Aside from improving care for young patients, the Pediatric Emergency Department should help ease congestion in the main Emergency and Trauma Center, which hopefully will lead to shorter waits for treatment, Chandler said.
"Right now the ERs in our community are crowded," he said. "I know that we are working on our wait times and improving our through-put, and we've made drastic improvements. Our goal is to, quite frankly, have a model where there is virtually no wait."
The bricks-and-mortar facilities are very welcome, said Chandler, who took the CEO position about 10 months ago. But it's also about the can-do attitude within the community and the support by those in the local pediatrics field have offered.
The effort includes continually bringing in pediatric specialists to enhance care, he said. For instance, a neurologist trained in treating children will start work here Aug. 1. The hope is to begin pediatric surgery and orthopedic treatment as well. Those are on top of an ophthalmologist, endocrinologist, radiologist and hematologist/oncologist who will be on staff.
"This is a new program. This is not the same old thing reinvented," he said. "The Pediatric Emergency Department will be a new service to our community, and I think people get excited about that. Quite frankly, being the dad of a couple of young girls, there's nothing more comforting to me than to know we'll have this right here in our community and we don't have to go to Atlanta or elsewhere to have this level of care."
Chandler said he is hopeful that philanthropists in the Columbus area will see the value and potential of both the Pediatric Emergency Department and The Children's Hospital, thus offering donations such as the "lead gift" made by the Amoses.
Paul Amos said he hopes the largest donation he and his wife have ever made motivates others to do so as well. But beyond that, it is about continuing the charitable nature he picked up from his father, Aflac Chairman and CEO Dan Amos, while growing up and rising through the ranks of the insurance company.
A perfect example of the family's giving: The John B. Amos Cancer Center, built through Amos family donations, bears the name of Paul Amos' late uncle and co-founder of Aflac.
"My father set an incredible example for me, not only in his giving, but also his humility in doing so," Paul Amos said. "He's been very quiet in what he has done, and many of the times I found out about major impact gifts he gave after the fact."
The Amoses said they've been fortunate that their four children -- Dan, Mansell, Knox and Eden -- haven't had to use emergency rooms much so far in their young lives. But the thought of having a quality facility here in Columbus does offer peace of mind, they said, and it should do the same for all parents in the Chattahoochee Valley.
Courtney Amos said she found out how different a pediatric emergency room can be when her first two children -- who were born in Atlanta -- were treated at Children's at Scottish Rite, part of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. She was "blown away" by the nursing and medical staff there.
"It's a very different service line than caring for adults. They took the fear out of it, and they were able to address children as children," she said. "We wanted to bring some of that to Columbus, and just make sure that the children of this community and their families have that same kind of experience being cared for by wonderful, kind, gentle-natured nurses and doctors."