The Richmond area needs a new, freestanding, pediatric hospital, the chief executive officer of Bon Secours Health System Virginia said Tuesday.

Speaking at the University of Richmond, Bon Secours Virginia CEO Peter Bernard also said the not-for-profit hospital system is planning an expansion of its St. Francis Medical Center in Chesterfield County.

And he said the health system’s policy of not hiring people who test positive for tobacco use has been received well.

A group of pediatricians in the area organized under the name Pediatricians Associated to Care for Kids has been seeking to open a full-service children’s hospital that would operate independently or in partnership with a hospital system.

Bernard said Bon Secours supports the idea of a children’s hospital, which he said has been studied enough. “It is the right thing to do,” he said.

“The care for kids in this community is fragmented,” he said. “Certain kids fall through the cracks. A number of children need to go to other locations for their care because it is not provided here.”

The pediatrician group has said it wants a hospital that provides more comprehensive care than the Children’s Hospital of Richmond on Brook Road in North Richmond, which became part of the VCU Health System in July 2010.

Bernard said a summit is being planned for the spring to further discuss the children’s hospital proposal.

Richard Coughlan, senior associate dean at University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, interviewed Bernard on a wide range of topics from leadership and decision-making to the company’s strategy including its stance on a children’s hospital. His interview was part of the school’s “C-Suite Conversations” executive speaker series.

Bon Secours hospitals in the Richmond area include St. Francis and Memorial Regional medical centers and Richmond Community and St. Mary’s hospitals.

Bernard said St. Francis Medical Center, a 130-bed hospital that opened in 2005 in Chesterfield, has been approved for a 54-bed expansion. The completion date for that expansion has not been determined, a Bon Secours spokeswoman said.

“It is running full,” Bernard said of St. Francis.

He also addressed a Bon Secours’ policy, adopted in November, of not hiring people who test positive for nicotine in pre-employment screenings.

The policy is part of an effort to improve employee wellness and reduce health-care costs, a program that also includes opening employee health clinics, Bernard said.

He said about 4 percent of the health system’s employees in Virginia consume 49 percent of its annual health costs. About 10 percent of its employees are smokers.

“I think it shook things up,” Bernard said of the policy. “But I have been sought out by a lot of individuals who are very proud of the fact that we are taking charge of what a health system should be doing, and being a role model for that. It is really doing very well, even in a tobacco state.”

Asked how he balances Bon Secours’ mission of providing for the poor and underserved while also meeting bottom-line needs, Bernard confessed that he is “a little bit too much oriented toward being driven by the financial dollars, and I get challenged by the ministry in that regard.”

Yet Bon Secours is committed to its mission, he said. For example, Bon Secours Virginia recently added a fourth van to its fleet of “Care-A-Vans,” which are mobile doctor offices that travel to underserved areas in Richmond and Hampton Roads, providing health clinics for uninsured patients. (804) 775-8123

Bon Secours CEO: Children’s Hospital Needed (Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 1, 2012)