350 7th Street North, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Dr. Pia Myers is trusting her instincts.
Enough so that she uprooted her life in Jacksonville to take a chance on Naples. Enough to take the lead in establishing a pediatric emergency room in her new community.
The 39-year-old began work in May as the first director of the pediatric emergency department for the NCH Healthcare System.
She’s a whirlwind of energy, and seemingly a multitasking master, who is getting to know the 30 pediatricians on staff of NCH, and others who aren’t. She’s overseeing a myriad of issues for phasing in a pediatric emergency room at North Naples Hospital off Immokalee Road.
At present, a seven-room unit on the ground floor, adjacent to the main ER, is a pediatric urgent-care center that will be transformed into the kids’ emergency room. A two-year time frame may work.
“That would be a nice goal,” she said.
The hours for urgent care now are 3 p.m. to midnight on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. Before the winter season starts, the plan is to add a 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift, followed by a 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift, Myers said.
“The need in the community has grown exponentially,” she said. “Granted this is not a children’s hospital, but the idea is to save (families) from driving all the way (across the state) or to Fort Myers. Most communities are now trending toward having separate pediatric emergency departments. Community pediatricians are wanting it.”
Myers is recruiting pediatricians who are board-certified in emergency medicine. The goal is having four on board when the emergency room goes 24/7.
This summer, the urgent-care center will be transformed with beach-scene decor, including water, sand and surfboards. The same interior design firm, Wegman Design Group, that revamped the third-floor pediatrics unit into an underwater wonderland is handling the makeover.
“It’s more calm, less intimidating, less threatening,” Myers said of the importance of kids’ decor.
By the numbers
On average, 18,000 children annually use the main emergency department at the hospital, and around 10,000 use the pediatric urgent-care center.
On average, 18,000 children annually use the main emergency department at the hospital, and around 10,000 use the pediatric urgent-care center, said Pat Read, administrative director at North Naples.
A year ago, Read held a retreat with local pediatricians and NCH directors to brainstorm about what’s needed for children in the community. The take-away was the pediatric emergency room.
NCH isn’t alone in focusing on expanding children’s services: the Lee Memorial System in Lee County opened a specialty children’s clinic a year ago across Immokalee Road from North Naples hospital — also at the request of local pediatricians.
Likewise, Lee Memorial is raising money to build a $192 million freestanding Children’s Hospital, to replace the children’s hospital inside HealthPark Medical Center, south of Fort Myers. The children’s hospital historically serves kids from Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties.
Two years ago, NCH broke off a 20-year relationship with a group of neonatologists in Fort Myers who came to Naples to take care of premature newborns in Collier. In its place, NCH contracts with neonatologists in Miami, with the intent of having coverage at all hours as opposed to on-call coverage only.
That move meant more transfers of sick children to Miami Children’s Hospital or Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, which didn’t sit well with Lee Memorial leaders at the time.
NCH’s current plan for a pediatric emergency room is fine with Lee Memorial, spokeswoman Mary Briggs said.
“We are fully supportive of NCH’s pediatric emergency department,” Lee Memorial spokeswoman Mary Briggs said. “It is our philosophy that children’s services should be provided as close to home as possible. A pediatric emergency department located in Collier County is going to be good for the community.”
“We are fully supportive of NCH’s pediatric emergency department,” Briggs said. “It is our philosophy that children’s services should be provided as close to home as possible. A pediatric emergency department located in Collier County is going to be good for the community.”
Myers said local pediatricians make referrals with parents’ preferences in mind and what the child needs.
“I ask the family,” Myers said. “Some already have established a relationship at Lee Memorial.”
Added Read, the NCH administrator: “We did a survey of doctors where they send (kids). It is all over the board.”
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Myers had been happy working at Shands Jacksonville, part of UF, since doing her residency there, which she finished in 2002.
Three years ago, she attended her high school reunion in Sarasota and met up with Dr. Todd Vedder, NCH’s chairman of pediatrics, a high school acquaintance. They chatted about Naples and where NCH was looking to go with kids down the road.
“I said, ‘Give me a call,’” she said. “I got a call last summer.”
She came for an interview and liked what she saw.
“I fell in love,” she said. “I thought this was utopia.”
But she knows staff members are told to be on their best behavior, that the red carpet treatment is part of the recruitment effort. She came back for a surprise visit a month or two later to shadow staff for a day.
“I think she (Dr. Pia Myers) is extremely enthusiastic. She is very well-trained,” said Dr. Allen Weiss, president and chief executive officer of NCH.
“I wanted to see you unshaven ... with no makeup,” she said. “It was still the same. These people are really sincere about their intention. I just did my own personal investigation. I see a vision of the place and I think other people have that vision, too.”
In the few weeks since Myers has been on board, she’s been well-received by pediatricians, said Dr. John Lewis, medical director of emergency medicine at NCH.
He hopes she brings some new academic-based focus to treating children. One example is a device for administering lidocaine, a topical anesthetic, so there is no pain when an intravenous line is needed.
“Things like that will be beneficial,” Lewis said, adding that she also looks at lifestyle issues for kids, as opposed to strictly medical concerns.
“I think she is extremely enthusiastic. She is very well-trained,” said Dr. Allen Weiss, president and chief executive officer of NCH, adding that she also has taught in her field. “Pediatricians are happy to have a full-time pediatric emergency physician. Pediatricians are passionate about caring for kids. This helps them care for those kids.”
Besides her full-time administrative role, Myers works 10 shifts a month. She’s learned to juggle her work life and home with a 5-year-old and a husband, and catches sleep when the opportunity offers it.
“I’m a cat-napper,” she said.