When Peggy Troy returned to the Milwaukee area about eight years ago to become president and CEO of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, she was struck by the disparities in children’s health she found. She had been a hospital executive in Memphis and expected that things were better overall in Milwaukee. But when it came to medical issues affecting thousands of children in high-poverty neighborhoods, that wasn’t really the case. The disparities in Milwaukee’s central city were some of the worst in the nation.
Since then, Troy has been a central figure in accelerating the efforts by Children’s and many community partners to improve the overall health of children in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin. While the national reputation of Children’s for its medical work has continued to rise, the mission statement for the institution goes beyond delivering care for patients. It is to make Wisconsin’s children the healthiest in the nation.
That broader mission was Troy’s focus during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Thursday.
“Healthy kids are the future,” Troy said. “We have the ability to impact kids beyond being sick.” Even though treating patients is a hospital’s main source of revenue, Troy and Children’s have made the broader mission of improving children’s health “our north star,” as Troy put it. “That is what we’re going to strive for every day.”
So Children’s has expanded its involvement in community health programs, its work with high-needs pregnant women and new mothers, with families, with schools, and community organizations in pursuit of better outcomes. It is a big operation: $1 billion a year in revenue, 5,000 employees, 1,000 doctors, 50 sites for its work. But consider one other statistic Troy mentioned: Children’s employs 500 social workers. And not many realize how involved it is in foster care and adoption help for children.
There have been some encouraging results, Troy said. In four Milwaukee zip codes that have been the focus of efforts, the percentage of young low-income children who have been immunized has gone from about 50 percent to about 68 percent. Teen age pregnancies are down significantly. Efforts to improve nutrition and good choices in food for low-income families have increased.
But the gaps remain large and the need to address them continues to be compelling, Troy said. Children’s treats thousands of abused children each year, and that may only be the tip of the ice berg, she said. Infant mortality in Milwaukee remains high. Traumatic experiences and stresses in childhood leave many children with long-term barriers to success in school and beyond. Troy and Gousha encouraged people to read a recent series in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (produced through a grant from the Marquette Law School’s Sheldon B. Lubar Fund for Public Policy Research) about those factors. The project. “A Time to Heal,” may be found by clicking here.
Troy said while there are many people, agencies, and organizations working to help children with large needs, there is not enough coordination and enough overall cooperation in pursuing ways to make things better.
Troy said that only about 20 percent of a typical person’s health is connected to medical care. Forty percent is due to genetics and 40 percent to individual choices. Working to improve those choices can have a lot of impact.
Troy also spoke about proposals for reforming federal health insurance laws and her concerns about possible cuts in Medicaid, which provides more than half of the system’s revenue; about cooperation and competition between large medical systems in the Milwaukee area; and a bout herself, including that she is a nursing graduate of Marquette University and now a trustee of Marquette.
But her main theme was the overall health of children. Gousha asked her what her wish was for the community. “Do a better job of taking care of our kids,” she answered, so they can grow to reach their fullest potential.
Video of the one-hour conversation may be viewed by clicking here.