Critical Pediatric Needs Projected in East Texas

Pediatric Health Status Report reveals shortages in specialty pediatric care.

TYLER, Texas (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 ӣƵ 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, ӣƵ 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.”