Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital is set to open in October 2019.

Children’s Hospital New Orleans and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health in Baton Rouge are teaming up to create a regional pediatric cardiovascular surgical health care network.

The network will join the two largest providers of children’s health care in the state in an effort to improve the quality of pediatric care in the region. It will bring services to the Baton Rouge market, such as pediatric heart surgery, allowing children to get highly specialized care while they remain close to home.

“It’s very important to concentrate volume and expertise to provide the highest quality of care,” said Dr. Alston E. Dunbar III, president of Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health. Dunbar noted that volume is an indicator of quality for surgeons because the more often you do a type of procedure, the better you get.

Ten doctors from Our Lady of the Lake will be on the team, while the entire heart center team at Children’s Hospital — including surgeons, cardiologists, anesthesiologists and nurses — will be available as needed in Baton Rouge, said John Nickens IV, president and CEO. The plan is to grow the team, adding specialists such as cardiac intensive care unit doctors.

The goal is to keep children who need heart surgery in Louisiana instead of having their families take them to Texas for treatment, Nickens said.

Children’s Hospital has added to its heart center in recent months, hiring several specialists from children’s hospitals outside the state. In May, Dr. Thomas Kimball will take over as chief of cardiology. Kimball is the former medical director at Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute, ranked as one of the top pediatric programs in the country.

“What’s driving us to partner with Baton Rouge is that it feels right,” Nickens said. “If the competition is Houston, then Louisiana should unite.”

Dunbar said the new services will help between 30 to 40 children in metro Baton Rouge each year, or about 30% of the boys and girls who need cardiac surgery.

While the partnership will kick into high gear when Our Lady of the Lake opens its freestanding Children’s Hospital in October, patients will be able to benefit immediately.

All of the cardiologists affiliated with Children’s Hospital and Our Lady of the Lake will participate in case conferences, going over the care of all the pediatric cardiac patients who are being treated.  

Nickens said the plan is to extend the service to pediatric cardiologists in Lafayette and Alexandria.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.