Kentucky Children's Hospital celebrates 25 years of serving the Commonwealth's kids


On Aug. 23, 2022, Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH) will celebrate its 25th anniversary of serving the children of the Commonwealth. The hospital has grown since 1997, in both physical capacity and the types of specialty care available for every child, from infant to young adults.

Physician-in-chief Scottie B. Day, M.D., reflects proudly on how KCH has expanded over the years to provide highly specialized care to children in Central and Eastern Kentucky.

“Before KCH, families would have to travel hours, sometimes to other states, to get the help their kids needed,” said Day. “This is a place that centers on family care, and keeping families together and close to home is essential to care and healing.”

Carol Steltenkamp, M.D., chief medical officer for external affairs for UK HealthCare, had completed her pediatrics residency at UK’s Chandler Hospital just prior to the establishment of the children’s hospital. When she returned as an attending pediatrician in 1995, planning for the new space was underway.

“The fourth floor of Chandler was already designated for pediatrics,” she said. “It looked just like the other floors. But there was a focus; our region needed a children’s hospital, our state needed it, and they needed UK to be the leader.”

In 1997, the renovations were complete, and this “hospital within a hospital,” then called UK Children's Hospital, had a total of 50 beds in its acute and intensive care units. 

Over the years, the hospital expanded, not just in capacity, but in its ability to treat even the most medically complex cases. At the time of its opening, KCH employed 70 pediatric specialists and 200 nurses. In 2022, there are more than 150 pediatric specialists and more than 405 pediatric nurses as well as dietitians, licensed clinical social workers, genetic counselors, child-life specialists, pharmacists and physical, occupational, speech and respiratory therapists. KCH now has a total of 220 beds, including:

  • 90 neonatal intensive and neonatal abstinence care (NICU) beds
  • 16 pediatric intensive and cardiac intensive care (PICU) beds
  • 43 acute care beds
  • 12 progressive care beds
  • 26 newborn nursery beds 
  • 12 adolescent psych beds

“The majority of children’s hospitals are located within larger adult hospitals, which gives us even greater access to specialties and facilities,” said Steltenkamp. “A number of our subspecialists have dual appointments in both adult and pediatric areas, so having everyone in the same building gives us a huge advantage in multidisciplinary care.”

In 2005, UK Children’s Hospital was renamed Kentucky Children’s Hospital, a change that reflects service to all of Kentucky’s kids, not just those in the Lexington area. But the changes didn’t stop there. Other expansions include:

The opening of the Makenna David Pediatric Emergency Department in 2010. Adjacent to Chandler Hospital, it’s the only Level 1 pediatric trauma center in the region and has a dedicated entrance with child-friendly waiting and treatment areas and staff trained to address the specific needs of pediatric patients;

The DanceBlue Kentucky Children's Hospital Hematology/Oncology Clinic expansion in 2017. Supported by the UK student-run DanceBlue 24-hour dance marathon, UK students have raised nearly $20 million for the treatment of patients with cancer and blood disorders.

Joint Pediatric Heart Care Program, a “one program, two sites” collaboration with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that is one of the top-ranked pediatric heart programs in the country.

The partnership with Shriners’ Childrens Lexington on an outpatient surgical and rehabilitation center that is among the top pediatric orthopedic programs in the country by US News & World Report.

The 36,000 square foot neonatal intensive care unit, where the tiniest and most vulnerable newborns are treated. The changing landscape of public health, including the opioid crisis, necessitated advanced facilities to manage complex care.

Children’s Sedation and Procedure Unit, which provides outpatient services in a child-focused environment. It was recently redesignated as a center of excellence by the Society for Pediatric Sedation. KCH is only one of four institutions in the world to receive this designation twice.

In 2018, KCH got the ultimate makeover in the form of a new 11,000 square foot lobby and welcome center that includes patient registration, gift shop, family education center, conference rooms, interactive digital wall, and large-scale art installations. The welcome center also includes the Simpson Family Theatre that hosts events, movie nights and special visitors. Prior to 2018, KCH was accessed by a single elevator and had no central waiting or registration area.

“Everything from having 24-hour Child Life specialists in the emergency department to Jarrett’s Joy Cart, there are all of these opportunities that makes us different from other hospitals,” said Steltenkamp. “And we’re able to provide a continuity of care for young patients with chronic conditions. So many of our specialists are trained in both adult and pediatric care that patients can easily have their care transitioned as they grow up.”

What does the future hold for KCH? More expansion, but not just the building itself. Access to health care is still a barrier to families in rural areas. The COVID-19 pandemic brought telehealth into the forefront, and with it, care providers into the homes of the patients they serve. KCH has a strong affiliate network where children can see a UK doctor in a hospital in their hometown. Soon, a new mobile clinic will be rolling into the most remote parts of the state.

Over the past 25 years, the providers and staff of KCH have used every available resource to deliver care where it’s needed most. For the next 25 years and beyond, the building, staff and treatments will change, but the mission will stay the same.

“We're important. Our mission is important,” said Steltenkamp. “We're leaders in children’s care and education of parents and caregivers. This anniversary is just another stepping stone for us.”

“This isn’t just a hospital, and kids aren’t just small adults,” said Day. “This is a nationally-ranked institution where specialized, complex care is delivered and innovative research is conducted, all with the goal of helping kids get back to being kids.”

To learn more about Kentucky Children's Hospital, click here.

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