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As the saying goes, “When it rains, it pours!" Unfortunately, that's where we found ourselves when a 'rainy day' turned into a year-long monsoon season because of COVID-19.
But everyone at Cook Children's should feel a sense of security that the financial measures we had in place prepared us for a worst case scenario that we never could have imagined.
The careful and thoughtful attention to being mindful of our spending for many years was the secret to that preparation, according to Stephen Kimmel, executive vice president of System Finance.
While Stephen doesn't exactly relish the spotlight afforded to him by his recurring role at our regular town hall meetings, he knows it's beneficial for employees. He sets aside his introverted side to make sure we have an understanding of where Cook Children's is standing financially and why it's important we proceed cautiously with our spending.
One of the main takeaways that Stephen always touches on in these meetings is the organization's operating margin. As Stephen explained, “Thinking about your own finances, the operating margin is what you have left over from your paycheck after you pay all the necessary bills. That money is then available to put toward a large purchase or to save for hard times. It's the same thing for Cook Children's. Except that our large purchases may be a new campus in Prosper and our hard times may be a global pandemic."
With an organizational mindset that we are good stewards of our money, the credit to a strong operating margin goes to everyone at Cook Children's. “The fact that our teams and leaders have adopted and never veered from making wise spending decisions is what has been key to us having a well-stocked 'rainy day' fund," Stephen said.
So, as the organization faced the torrential downpour of COVID-19, we were able to stay dry and find relief under an umbrella of financial stability that other organizations could not.
Regardless of how other employers were having to react to the pandemic and resulting shutdown, Cook Children's never lost sight of an important purpose amidst so much uncertainty – to do what's best and right for our employees.
As such, Cook Children's navigated the rising waters of COVID-19 with a ship full of employees, with no one losing their jobs due to a cost-cutting measure. Because of these good steward efforts, the system stayed the course, even during the hardest of times when census numbers were low, due to virtually non-existent flu and RSV cases, and the work of so many was hindered or halted by enhanced COVID-19 measures.
Along with having the financial means to avoid layoffs, employees across the organization also were able to take advantage of redeployment options that filled new needs that arose from COVID-19. One such example is the establishment of Camp Cook. This alternate child care solution for employees filled a need for employees to continue to come to work, even as their own children's schools closed, and allowed the Child Study Center staff to continue working.
Throughout the past year, Cook Children's employees found unique and creative ways to make a difference. Consider how Camp Cook relieved a family stressor for parents worried about their own children or how redeployed staff made cloth masks by the thousands to meet an important need. It's easy to see such solutions met a variety of needs whether financial, logistical or, even, emotional.
“Whether it's finding ways to be more cost effective throughout the year or developing solutions to fill staffing needs in a moment of crisis," Stephen said, “Cook Children's employees always show the right amount of creativity to answer a call to action and rally behind one another."
Supporting each other as a community even during a very scary, uncertain time is true to the spirit of Cook Children's.
So, as we leave this one-year mark behind us and look to a hopeful future that the COVID-19 vaccine and continued preventive measures can offer, Stephen reminds us of how important it is to stay vigilant in our efforts.
“We still have a challenge ahead of us as we may see lower volumes and revenues," he said. “But I have the utmost confidence in each of you to continue our disciplined management of costs that have sustained us throughout this last year. Our ability to exceed expectations lies in each of your hands and, honestly, I believe we are definitely in the good hands to get us there."
Ultimately, Cook Children's was well-positioned to weather this storm of a year because of forward-thinking preparedness by leadership and the willingness of employees to embrace that guidance with a trust that these were the right steps for the organizations, employees and patients.
For that, we say, “Thank you!"