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Critical Pediatric Needs Projected in East Texas 

Pediatric Health Status Report reveals shortages in specialty pediatric care. 

TYLER (May 11, 2023) – The lack of access to care and resources in Northeast Texas has  resulted in a higher rate of child mortality in the region than both national and state averages,  according to a recent report by the UT Tyler School of Medicine.  

In Northeast Texas, the mortality of pediatric patients is nearly 2.5 times higher than the national  average. 

“Children are the future of our community, and it is alarming to see the significant pediatric health  issues present in Northeast Texas,” said Dr. Valerie B. Smith, Smith County Local Health Authority and UT Tyler’s School of Medicine Assistant Professor of Pediatrics. “This report shows the urgent  need to address the critical pediatric health care shortages in our region. We must work together to  improve the health outcomes for our children and ensure they can thrive.” 

Smith is not just speaking as a physician, but also as a parent who has experienced the fear of not  having adequate pediatric emergency care while facing her daughter’s sudden illness. 

When her 12-year-old daughter, Ashley, experienced progressing weakness on her left side and difficulty concentrating, Smith was very concerned. As a general pediatrician, she knew Tyler had no pediatric emergency room physicians, pediatric ICU beds or subspecialists. After hours in the  emergency room, it was determined a recent sinus infection had eroded the bone between Ashley’s sinus and brain, and they would need to be transferred to Children’s Medical Hospital in Dallas for  proper care. Fifteen hours after Ashley first began presenting symptoms, they arrived at the  hospital in Dallas. Thanks to the efforts of their local pediatrician and pediatric specialists at  Children’s, today Ashley is a thriving college student majoring in International Relations and Plan II  at UT Austin, on track to graduate in spring 2025. 

“Ashley knows how many things could have gone differently which would have changed her  outcome and how important it was that she had the care she needed when she needed it,” Smith  said. “I am acutely aware of this, too, every time I send a patient to Dallas because we cannot  provide the care they need in East Texas. I wonder whether the delay will impact their prognosis.” 

According to the Pediatric Health Status Report: 

  • Northeast Texas had higher rates of children living in poverty and food insecurity, preterm  births and teen births than both the state and national averages.
  • Northeast Texas children are more than twice as likely to be uninsured as their national  counterparts. 
  • Twenty-four counties don’t have a board-certified pediatrician, which means that over  105,000 children in the region don’t have access to a pediatrician in their county. In the entire 42-county region, there are no pediatric intensive care beds. 

Because of these shortages, families often must seek care far from home, meaning 58.4% of  Northeast Texas pediatric patients have to drive more than 80 miles to receive specialty pediatric  care.  

In 2022, according to data from UT Health East Texas and CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances in Tyler,  these hospitals transferred 938 children to hospitals outside of the region because they lacked  either the necessary subspecialist, intensive care or monitoring capabilities. 

“The pediatric shortages, especially the shortages of subspecialists, in Northeast Texas are deeply  concerning. Now more than ever, it is vital that we begin to plan on how we are going to address  pediatric care,” said Dr. Brigham Willis, UT Tyler School of Medicine founding dean. “The University  of Texas at Tyler School of Medicine is committed to addressing this critical issue by providing high quality medical education to prepare our students to be the future pediatricians and subspecialists  of East Texas.” 

To learn more, view the Pediatric Health Status Report

With a mission to improve educational and health care outcomes for East Texas and beyond, UT  Tyler offers more than 80 undergraduate and graduate programs to 10,000 students. UT Tyler  recently merged with The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler (now known as UT  Tyler Health Science Center). Through its alignment with UT Tyler Health Science Center (HSC) and  UT Health East Texas, UT Tyler has unified these entities to serve Texas with quality education,  cutting-edge research and excellent patient care. Classified by Carnegie as a doctoral research  institution and by U.S. News & World Report as a national university, UT Tyler has campuses in  Tyler, Longview, Palestine and Houston. 


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