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Richmond’s History of Caring for Kids

May 20, 2020
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In 1973, Dr. Barry Kirkpatrick established the first neonatal intensive care unit in Richmond, which by 1986 was one of the largest units on the East Coast. In 2013, he retired from VCU after 40 years of service but continues to attend teaching conferences and see general pediatric patients with pediatric residents a few days a week. Dr. Kirkpatrick is currently writing a history of Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and pediatrics in Richmond. Here he shares some highlights.

“In 1838, a medical school was founded as a division of Hampden-Sydney College here in Richmond. Children were part of the curriculum from the beginning, which was different from a number of schools in the United States. In 1913, use of the term ‘pediatrics’ began, and the first chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Virginia was named. Ten years later, the first woman was appointed as a faculty member in the Department of Pediatrics, and in 1934, the pediatric residency program began at MCV with a woman as the first pediatric resident.

When Crippled Children’s Hospital was incorporated in 1920, there were at least three pediatricians from MCV on staff. The relationship between MCV’s Department of Pediatrics and the Brook Road facility has been there since inception focusing initially on treatment of congenital orthopaedic disorders, polio and musculoskeletal issues and serving as a residential facility for children who needed prolonged care.


From its opening in 1928 though the time that a medical director was appointed in 1971, the pediatric faculty from the MCV Campus provided medical consultations for patients at the Brook Road facility. Most of these consultations were related to acute or chronic infectious disease problems. In addition consultations and medical management were provided to children with other conditions such as heart disease, hematologic disorders, nutritional issues or renal disease.

By the 1970s, the chairman of the department of pediatrics realized general pediatricians could no longer take care of children with complex conditions and hired me to start the first neonatal intensive care unit in Central Virginia. In 1976, we started a neonatal transport service, and by 1982, we were admitting 900 patients a year and transporting more than 300 patients a year from outside facilities to MCV.




At the same time, the number of specialists from MCV who treated patients at the Brook Road hospital increased, and additional specialties including urology and neurosurgery were added. Children’s Hospital always was a provider of services like speech, physical therapy, psychology and audiology, with a lot of pediatricians in the community relying on the hospital for those services and evaluation of their patients.


The teaching of pediatrics has changed over time because pediatrics has changed, and knowledge of medicine has expanded. We realized children weren’t just small adults but that they had special needs. We now have multiple fellowship programs to train individuals in different specialty areas.

The research component for children got started in the mid 1960s. We now have a team member dedicated to coordinating all the research for children. The department of pediatrics publishes several hundred papers a year, presents at national and international societies of medicine and is becoming a recognized research center for childhood conditions.

Over the years we’ve recognized that children with chronic diseases and families who have children with chronic diseases have certain psychological needs. We’ve devoted more faculty positions to having social workers and psychologists available for our patients. There are more parent support groups.






CHoR’s new inpatient facility will elevate the care of children in Richmond. The new children’s hospital will be a rallying point for the community and something to point to with pride."





CHoR’s first 100 years

1920 – Crippled Children’s Hospital incorporated

1921 – Kappa Delta sorority adopted Crippled Children’s Hospital as its national philanthropy

1928 – Crippled Children’s Hospital opened on Brook Road with 50 beds. A bequest by Mrs. Sallie May Dooley made construction possible

1928 – Hospital established affiliation with Orthopaedic Department at the Medical College of Virginia

1950 – Hospital addition completed to house updated physical and occupational therapy facilities and recovery rooms for boys’ and girls’ units

1958 – Facial deformities clinic established through partnership with hospital, Dr. Leroy Smith and Department of Dentistry at MCV

1971 – Dr. Ralph Ownby appointed first medical director at Crippled Children’s Hospital, and full-time pediatric residency program in partnership with MCV established

1973 – Outpatient clinic opened as patients require shorter hospital stays

1973 – First neonatal ICU established in central Virginia

1982 – Hospital changed its name to Children’s Hospital

1984 – First Children’s Miracle Network telethon held to benefit Children’s Hospital and Children’s Medical Center at MCV

1997 – Children’s Hospital merged with the Richmond Cerebral Palsy Center

2010 – Children’s Hospital merged with VCU Health System to become Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU

2011 – First pediatric hospitalist program established

2016 – Children’s Pavilion opened to consolidate most outpatient clinics on MCV Campus

2018 – Virginia Treatment Center for Children opened

2019 – Groundbreaking for new inpatient facility

2022 Opening of new inpatient facility