Congratulations to Smriti Khare, MD, president of Primary Care at Children’s Wisconsin and executive vice president of Children’s Hospital and Health System, for being named a 2021 Women of Influence by The Milwaukee Business Journal.
Dr. Khare started at Children’s Wisconsin as a pediatrician in 2001, and instantly made an impact to the hundreds of kids and families for whom she cared. Twenty years later, her compassion, expertise and perspective are now having an impact on every single child in Wisconsin.
In 2018, Dr. Khare was selected to lead the Children’s Wisconsin mental and behavioral health efforts. This complex care model — involving multiple operational units and partners outside the Children’s Wisconsin health system — needed a leader who could work across silos to create a vision for coordinated, accessible care.
As a pediatrician, Dr. Khare has seen the change in the mental health of our kids, and understands that there is no way kids can be healthy if their mental and behavioral health isn’t cared for just as their physical health. With the support and input of many, in less than a year Dr. Khare helped shape the five year, $150 million commitment Children’s Wisconsin made to detect mental and behavioral health needs sooner, improve access to services and help reduce the stigma around the illness.
We announced that commitment in November 2019. Little did anyone know that just a few months later children’s mental health, as well as the mental health of all of us, would be furthered challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before COVID-19, kids across the state were facing a mental and behavioral health crisis. In Wisconsin, one in five kids suffer from a mental health disorder and at least half of those kids are not receiving the treatment they need. They have high rates of anxiety, depression and suicide, and not enough access to care. When COVID-19 hit, the issue only became more pronounced.
At Children’s Wisconsin, Dr. Khare and her teams took this crisis as an opportunity to innovate rapidly. As the pandemic spread, the Children’s Wisconsin Mental and Behavioral Health, Digital Health and Experience, Information Technology, and Institute for Child and Family Well-Being teams were busy redesigning our mental and behavioral health capabilities in a virtual environment. Children’s Wisconsin knew mental and behavioral health issues weren’t going to wait for COVID-19 to end, so Dr. Khare and her team, through innovation and collaboration, quickly created new telehealth services and enhanced their existing platforms.
Prior to April 2020, Children’s Wisconsin did not have a single telehealth visit for mental and behavioral health — there wasn’t even the ability to do so. But in the 15 months since, the mental and behavioral health team has completed more than 60,000 telehealth visits with kids across the state. In fact, even as in-person visits have resumed, telehealth still accounts for the majority of the mental and behavioral health appointments. The world of health care can be slow to change and the rapid innovation at Children’s Wisconsin would not have been possible without Dr. Khare’s guidance and direction.
But Dr. Khare’s work has hardly been limited to our many virtual mental and behavioral health projects. As the president of Primary Care at Children’s Wisconsin, Dr. Khare was indispensable in making sure our kids received the care they needed as the pandemic forced us and other health systems to postpone many non-time-sensitive appointments. Working to develop safety protocols, reimagining the waiting room process and consolidating locations and services to limit exposure, Dr. Khare’s work helped ensure every visit and appointment were safe. She also made sure newborn wellness appointments and vaccine appointments were prioritized, so that kids were not susceptible to other preventable viruses and illness. Dr. Khare also met regularly with superintendents and school board member as they worked to make informed decisions on how to safely serve students during the pandemic.
And, of course, once the vaccine became available, Dr. Khare worked to help coordinate our efforts to get as many people and kids vaccinated as quickly as possible. In addition to helping lead the vaccination of staff and providers at Children’s Wisconsin, she was instrumental in supporting our partnership with the City of Milwaukee Health Department to vaccinate teachers and childcare workers. Once up and running, you could often find her at the Wisconsin Center administering vaccines herself. She is also co-lead in the Children’s Wisconsin COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic, which has vaccinated thousands of kids 12 years old and older.
If you ask Dr. Khare, she would tell you she is a pediatrician. No doubt she is, as she continues to see patients through our urgent care clinics. But make no mistake about it, the work she has done behind the scenes at Children’s Wisconsin and our community will have a lasting impact on the kids of Wisconsin for years to come.
Congratulations, Dr. Khare!