By COLLEEN SPARKS
GSN Staff Writer

A highly experienced healthcare executive resident and mother of young twins is steering the growth and development of expanded services for babies, children and women in the East Valley.

Lee Ann Benson, 38, took the reins as the new vice president of the East Valley market for Phoenix Children’s in earlier this year.

It is a busy time for Benson and the rest of the team as Phoenix Children’s is expanding outpatient services with a new medical office building. About 80,000 square feet with 45,000 square feet operated by Phoenix Children’s providers at Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center’s campus.

That medical building is expected to open in next January.

Dignity Health and Phoenix Children’s Hospital are also jointly building the Dignity Health Phoenix Children’s Women & Children’s Pavilion at the Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, 3555 S. Val Vista Drive in Gilbert. That center is expected to open in early 2021.

Phoenix Children’s already runs a 22-bed Pediatric Inpatient Unit at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center where pediatric-trained nurses and hospitalists work 24 hours a day.

Phoenix Children’s Care Network (PCCN) collaborates with more than 170 pediatricians and specialists in the East Valley and Phoenix Children’s pediatric specialists are available for consults at Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center.

Benson had previously worked as the vice president of Pediatric Network Development and Growth at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee.

Benson is a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives and previously she served on the Board of Directors for the American College of Healthcare Executives of Middle Tennessee chapter and on the Tennessee Regents Advisory Council.

She was honored with the President’s Award of Excellence from the American College of Healthcare Executives of Middle Tennessee in 2018.

Benson also received the American College of Healthcare Executives Regent’s Early Careerist Award and she was nominated for the “Nashville Business Journal’s” Top 40 Under 40 Awards.

We asked her about her job and the projects she oversees.

What are your responsibilities?

This is a new role for Phoenix Children’s. It really came about because of our growing presence in the East Valley. We’re committed to just becoming an integral part of the community. Having a leader whose focus was that community was a key part of that.

It’s very much a collaborative project with Dignity Health. Dignity is leading the construction efforts. They have collaborated with Phoenix Children’s.

Talk about the new Women & Children’s Pavilion.

Adding these new services will really provide a comprehensive scope of care for pregnant women and their children. We’re really focused on the continuum. We with Dignity are there for the entire journey. We’ll actually have the only dedicated pediatric emergency department in the East Valley.

So, for all of those unexpected injuries and illnesses, we’ll have (services) there 24 hours a day, seven days a week (for) broken bones, beans in ears. One of the incredible services we’ll be adding is a 60-bed, level three neonatal intensive care unit, for premature babies, babies with medical or surgical (needs), private rooms designed for the babies and the family will have space to stay in there.

The neonatal intensive care unit will be adjacent to the post-partum unit. You always want to plan for the what ifs…just in case the baby needs some specialized care. It will create this seamless continuity of care for moms and children.

We also will be adding six operating rooms and two procedural suites. The operating rooms are specifically for children so Phoenix Children’s will operate those. …

The key design principle is all around family-centered care, keeping families is a key part of the care team, creating spaces for them to support them. It’s just this great comprehensive program for both women and their babies and children as they grow.

How will the pavilion differ from the Pediatric Inpatient Unit?

The difference will be in the new Women and Children’s Pavilion, we will also have a wide range of specialists. It will be a broaderrange of services. We offer over 20 subspecialties in the East Valley.

We will be able to work with specialists. The majority of our specialists will actually have most of their time dedicated in the East Valley. Their time is focused on the East Valley. By exception they come down to the main campus. Some of them do highly unique specialized procedures and care.

What types of medicine/treatment are most needed in the region?

The population growth in the East Valley has really just been astounding. The majority of that growth has been for young families. We know that easily accessible, high quality care lends itself to healthier communities and overall wellness.

That was really the catalyst for Phoenix Children’s growing in the East Valley. We need comprehensive services right there in the backyard.

What advice do you have for any expecting mothers?

When I was pregnant with my twins, I think to understand where the best service is available, planning for the what ifs, if your child would need specialty care, as they’re making decisions about where to go.

There are different classes and things like that. Mercy Gilbert offers a wide array of courses for families to learn, everything from how to care for a newborn, car-seat safety. Finding a pediatrician that aligns well with you and the East Valley is blessed with many wonderful physicians.

Having a great pediatrician partner is building that relationship so at any point in your pregnancy they identify any concerns.

What are some recent advances in technology and treatment for healthcare for women’s and children’s treatments?

The ability to identify abnormalities or potential healthcare needs of the babies when they’re in utero.

We have a phenomenal (pediatric) radiologist at Phoenix Children’s who does fetal MRIs, to help mothers understand, being able to early on identify any challenges or needs that babies may have so there is no delay in care when they are born. We will have pediatric imaging in the new Women’s and Children’s, as well.

Information: dignityhealth.org/arizona/locations/mercygilbert