Virginia children’s hospitals rank well nationally, but state struggles with worsening child health outcomes

Eight Virginia children’s hospitals earned recognition from the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings, released Tuesday. 

 

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Among them is University of Virginia Children’s Hospital (UVA), ranking first in the state and number seven in the mid-Atlantic region, recognized for its neonatology, pediatric cardiology and heart surgery, diabetes, orthopedics, and urology specialties. 

Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) ranked second in the state and 10th in the region, ranking well in pediatric urology, pulmonology, nephrology, and cancer specialties. Inova Children’s Hospital in Falls Church came in third in the state and 13th in the region, recognized for its neonatology program. 

CHoR CEO Elias Neujahr said in a statement: 

“Our community and our nation faced many challenges over the past year, but this recognition underscores that through it all, these teams never paused in caring, researching, growing and giving their all to make sure the health of our kids comes first.”

Despite the high hospital rankings, Virginia was facing worsening child health outcomes before the pandemic. A study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation ranked the Commonwealth 24th in the nation for child health, performing worse in three of four indicators. The study found children and teens who are overweight or obese increased to 31% in 2018 to 2019, up from 27% in 2016 to 2017. The number of low birth-weight babies increased slightly from 8.2% in 2010 to 8.4% in 2019. Child and teen deaths per 100,000 also slightly increased from 2010 to 2019.

The only indicator in which the state improved was its rate of children without health insurance, which decreased from 7% in 2010 to 5% in 2019, partly due to the state’s Medicaid expansion that year. 

Another national 2021 study from nonprofit ZERO TO THREE ranked the Commonwealth in the second-to-last indicator for babies’ health. It found only 2% of state public funds are directed towards babies and toddlers. The report also shows that children and families of color are experiencing disproportionate challenges, particularly those who live in low-income households. 

A number of children’s health advocates voiced their concerns with these outcomes. Amy Strite, CEO of Voices for Virginia’s Children, said: 

“Babies are seldomly top of mind for elected officials, but it’s time to elevate this priority. In particular, 48% of babies in Virginia are children of color, yet we see gaps in access to care, education and supports. It is past time for our leaders to begin prioritizing policies that will put babies on an equitable path of opportunity and success. Children who thrive and become successful adults have a solid foundation as babies, including economic stability, parent support, and early learning opportunities.”

A few projects are working to address social determinants of health affecting child and maternal health in the Commonwealth. Last week, national managed care organization UnitedHealthcare announced it would donate $900,000 in grants to 84 community-based organizations across the nation, including six in Virginia. 

The Virginia grants would support Urban Baby Beginnings and their goal to train more doulas of color, Capital Area Food Bank to create a food pharmacy for pregnant women, mothers and children, and the Cal Ripken, Sr., Foundation to support youth health and nutrition education programs.