Greg Raymond led the planning of southern Colorado’s first children’s hospital, set to open this spring — but his goal is to keep kids out of it.

“You look at a hospital and … it’s always tied with hands-on patient care and the billing cycle and that perpetual business activity that takes place,” he explained. “But really our success is measured by how many kids we keep out, rather than how many kids we get in.

“And that can mean a lot of different things: It can be very robust prevention programs; it can be very concrete population health management strategies; it can be the transition from inpatient medicine to outpatient care… .

“But to sum it up, if we put ourselves out of business, there will be 1,000 people in southern Colorado that are happy — and that’s all of our employees. Not because they’d be looking for jobs, but because they’d delivered on why they got into pediatric health care.

“Few people get into pediatric health care because they want to take care of sick and injured kids; they want to keep them in the neighborhood, having fun, at school, learning.”

When he stepped into the role of regional COO for Children’s Colorado’s Southern region last month, Raymond had already been responsible for the organization’s southern Colorado operations since 2013, and led the planning of the new Colorado Springs hospital.

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Previously the regional vice president for Children’s Colorado’s Southern region, his role will expand to cover the support of clinical programs throughout the region as well as oversight of strategy and daily operations for the new 111-bed hospital.

This week he spoke with the Business Journal about his path to the Springs, taking health care for granted, and what makes pediatric providers special.

Talk about your path to the Springs.

I grew up in northern Utah. Interestingly enough, I grew up working construction for my dad, then I [got my undergraduate degree studying biology and chemistry at Utah State University], went to graduate school [at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities] for a master’s in Health Care Administration, did some work in Arizona and on the West Coast, then I’ve been in Colorado ever since.

I’ve been with Children’s Hospital almost 18 years and my first role with Children’s was relocating the existing hospital from downtown Denver to what’s now known as the Anschutz Medical Campus. That was very early in my career, where I had this thought that I could bring my construction background together with my health care administration background and be a productive member of the planning team. And I had a lot of fun planning the new replacement hospital which, at that time, was 1.2 million square feet. It’s since been enhanced and it’s about a third bigger than that now. That was my first foray into the development of a pediatric health facility, and since then I’ve had the opportunity to start and develop programs within Children’s Hospital Colorado.

I came down here to Colorado Springs 5½ years ago with the idea of bringing care closer to home, to the kids and families in southern Colorado, and ultimately delivering on our strategy to have a southern front door to support southern Colorado, New Mexico, western Kansas, those surrounding states, to keep kids closer to home so they’re recovering quicker and getting that Top 10 pediatric health care in their backyard, so to speak.

What kind of difference will a completed hospital make to available care here?

The building is just that. Embedded in that, obviously, is the latest technology that’s catered towards a pediatric environment. But the big differentiator is the people who’ve dedicated their careers to training to take care of pediatric patients, and ultimately continue to focus only on kids. At the end of the day, the building is very visual — it’s a significant investment that we as an organization have made — but more importantly, it’s an investment in our team members. That’s the physicians who’ve relocated from all over the country to call Colorado Springs home, to bring their pediatric expertise to this community. It’s the nurses who have choices to go anywhere they want and get jobs nowadays, and they choose to either stay here at Children’s or to join Children’s, because they’re committed and focused on kids. It’s the pediatric pharmacist who is motivated by ensuring appropriate dosing for the neonates that sometimes can fit in the palm of your hand, up to the cognitively delayed adults that we take care of, and everyone in between. And it’s those types of people that are really going to differentiate our organization and the care that’s provided in Colorado Springs.

What drew you to the health care field?

The ability to make a change — but recognizing that I wasn’t cut out to be a physician. I had an uncle that was a physician and I had a good mentoring type relationship with him and through speaking with him, observing him, I decided that yes, I wanted to be in health care, but hands-on clinical care may not be my pathway. So when I was in my undergraduate degree I literally went and knocked on the door of the local hospital CEO and said, ‘You don’t know me, but I want to shadow you for the summer and validate a career decision,’ and he was dumb enough to let me do it.

I had a great experience with him. I just volunteered my time, I worked full-time for him during the summer, and did some project work and got to observe what a CEO does in a small community hospital — it was a less-than-200-bed hospital. And that really solidified that I wanted to go into health care administration.

You’ve been here a long time now — what are the most exciting changes you’ve seen?

My view is really myopic in that it’s focused on pediatrics. We think about the resiliency of kids and we think about how quickly they bounce back from the lowest of lows. Or they’re in a good situation and it transitions to a negative situation. So through all of that, and walking these hallways, you would think I’d have as much perspective as anyone around these kids that are in all these different states.

But it’s not until my own kids get sick or get injured and I experience health care [through them] when it really starts to dawn on me what the need is, and what the future can hold for pediatric patients. Fortunately none of my kids have been that sick. I did have a time about four years ago where all three of my daughters got E. coli in varying degrees. One was managed here locally and another one was very acute and required hospital admissions and those kind of things. And it was an experience like that where you recognize the amount of expertise that’s required. In the grand scheme of things, E. coli could’ve escalated to a real negative situation, but we had those resources.

And by resources [I mean] we had the physician and the nursing expertise to take care of it. And that, I think, is what we expect for Colorado Springs — it’s having that level of expertise in our backyard to keep kids closer to home. Because our experience, and research shows nationally, the closer kids get care to home the quicker they recover. And a lot of that’s tied to lessening the economic barriers that come from being remote, parents trying to manage time away from work or, worst case scenario, not being able to afford to be at the bedside if the child is, say, in Denver. So if we lessen that burden, we’re going to anticipate better outcomes for our kids.

Does it take a special kind of person to work in this area?

It absolutely does. When I experience it personally through my own kids or I observe it second- or third-hand, it really does take a different skill set where people can engage with the families. It’s unique in that, if you and I go to the physician, we’re involved in the decisions that affect our care. Rarely are the kids. It’s those older adolescents that have the ability to participate in their own care. So you are taking care of a child yet trying to coordinate it with the responsible party — mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, foster parent, whatever it may end up being. So inherent in that are communication skills, empathy skills, all those things have to come together, and at the end of the day, how do we lessen the burden on the families.

What else should we know about your work?

Ten years from now I think people in Colorado Springs are going to look back and say, ‘How did we not have a children’s hospital before then?’ Because they don’t know, really, what it means; they don’t know the influence it’s going to have on the community. It’s one of those resources — I joke it’s kind of like the fire department. You’re glad it’s there, but you hope you never have to call.

It’s going to become a community norm to have pediatric experts that have decided to come to Colorado Springs, here, in your backyard, to provide [everything from] very low levels of care to support their pediatrician or their family practice doc, up to some of the most acute things that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. At the end of the day, I hope it becomes so routine that people almost take it for granted, the expertise that exists in Colorado Springs.