Musing is not what Children's Hospital pays Dr. Robert H. Parrott to do. As director of one of the country's leading hospitals for youngsters, his schedule is normally crammed beyond belief. Administrative problems. Office politics. Are DPT shots safe? Should the plug be pulled on a brain-dead child? Crisis upon crisis.
But I caught Dr. Parrott between crises the other day, and we sat down for a 45-minute "muse." It was our annual "State of the Hospital" discussion. Here is some of what was said:
Does Children's Hospital do the job as well as ever?
"Oh, I think so. We're finding children who are disabled beyond an ordinary life style, and we're caring for them, very well. But we want to do more. We have to do more. We have to plan for the future."
In what kinds of ways?
"Research, for example. We have to find the money to do more of it here."
"The patients are here that would raise the questions. We need to do research to prevent problems. It's very closely themed to the rest of what we do. It would help us take better care of children."
Give me an example.
"Well, let's take the realm of accidents and burns. We have a strange idea. We think we can prevent them. We've already become a major center in terms of treating burns. But what about looking at ways in which burns might never have to happen? That's the sort of area we need to move toward."
How well are you handling the recession?
"In terms of the fiscal situation, we did something that we're very proud of. We held our costs well within the national average for hospitals , which was more than 10 percent. Our increase was about eight. The bottom line is bad for your campaign in one way. According to the balance sheet, we made money."
You made money?
(Grinning) " Well, only if you overlook the millions of dollars we owe on our building and to Uncle Sam. I don't think we'll ever really make money. But we're more comfortable than we have been in other years because we've kept a careful watch on costs."
Does that mean occupancy in your "hotel" here is up?
"Our patient days are up. What that means is we have more complicated patients. They're staying longer. And in terms of the long-range fiscal outlook, that probably means that staying comfortable won't be possible as easily as it has been.
"A complicated case means complicated, expensive care. If we need a new CAT scanner, for example, that can be millions of dollars."
You've done such a good job here for so long that I wonder if you've become a victim of your own reputation in a way. I mean, does every runny nose in Washington head for the emergency room here because the care is known to be so good?
"Well, I do know of cases where doctors in private practice who want to take a Wednesday or a Thursday afternoon off will put on their phone recorders with a message that says, 'If anything's wrong, call Children's Hospital.' I guess that makes us a place where cases that ought to be handled in the community get 'dumped.' You certainly don't have to be a super doc or a super nurse to take care of a strep throat.
"But if we're a victim of our reputation, it doesn't hurt that much. We still help a lot of very sick children . . .
"A giant building, a nice TV on the wall, those shouldn't be the reasons people come here -- and I don't think they are most of the time. We're doing as much as we're doing medically because we think it's necessary. We think it's good.
"We want to be a medical care center. The question for the future is how total we're going to be. Do we want to be the best trauma center in the country? Do we want to know all there is to know about burns? Those are the kinds of questions we're asking. Those are the programs we're building. If you or your readers are wondering where the money from your campaign is going, that's the answer."