Neuro team celebrates improved national ranking




In the past four years, Riley’s neurology and neurosurgery department has moved up 15 spots in U.S. News and World Report’s national rankings.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

There’s a white board in the main hallway of the pediatric neurosurgery department at Riley Hospital for Children that many might overlook.

But the board is a visual reminder to all who work here of their mission to provide the best care to children in and around central Indiana.

“We transparently display our outcomes on the board in our office and we track them in real time,” explains Dr. Andrew Jea, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Riley at IU Health.

That transparency, that dedication to excellence is earning recognition for the department, as evidenced most recently by its movement up two spots to No. 22 on U.S. News and World Report’s 2020-21 Best Children’s Hospitals national rankings, released this week.

Riley achieved national ranking in 10 out of 10 pediatric specialties, with two programs earning top five status. Its urology program placed second in the nation, and its cardiology and heart surgery program placed fifth in the nation.

In the past four years since Dr. Jea joined Riley’s neuro department, it has advanced 15 spots in the national rankings. But more work remains to be done, he said.

The vision he outlined for the department when he was hired in 2016 was to be a top 10 program in the country within 10 years. He has six more years to make that happen, and he expects people to hold him accountable to that goal.

“I’m absolutely confident we have everything it takes,” he said. “I honestly think if you take all the programs apart and look at them objectively, we compete very well with Boston Children’s, Texas Children’s, Children’s National, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Cincinnati Children’s. It’s just a matter of getting our name out there and for people to start realizing what we have here in Indianapolis.”


As chief, Dr. Jea has made it his mission to develop programs that push the envelope within pediatric neurosurgery, case in point being surgical options for children with epilepsy. He recruited Dr. Jeffrey Raskin to lead the surgical epilepsy program, and because of his success in growing the program, the department’s newest surgeon, Dr. Katrina Ducis, is also taking on some of those epilepsy cases.

Pediatric Neurosurgeon Department
Pictured from left: Dr. Karl Balsara, Dr. Jeffrey Raskin, Dr. Andrew Jea, Dr. Katrina Ducis. (Dr. Laurie Ackerman was not available at time of photo)

The neuro team, which includes five surgeons, four nurse practitioners, two nurses, one fellow and multiple office staff, remains focused on quality and outcomes. That’s where that white board comes in handy. As a group, they track the data and outcomes, including infections and readmissions, in real time, then review the numbers monthly.

“At the end of the month, we all look at that board together. It forms a nice graph – where did we do well, where do we need to improve,” he said. “Everyone is empowered to write on that board, so everyone takes ownership.”

There’s meaning behind that transparency.

“If you’re going to stand up in front of an audience naked, you might as well be buff,” Dr. Jea said. “That’s our whole idea. If we’re going to display that data and if we’re embarrassed about some metric, then we should probably do something about it.”

While developing programs and tracking patient outcomes with full transparency are key indicators for the department’s success, Dr. Jea takes it a step further, placing the highest value on their work as a team. And that includes everyone.

“We value not just the physicians here but we value our allied health professionals, as well as our administrative staff. One can’t function without the other,” he said. “What we do on the clinical side absolutely affects the administrative side, and what happens on the administrative side absolutely affects us and our patient flow. So it’s very synergistic and I think we’ve developed a culture of trust and empowerment and high expectations and honesty.”


When the coronavirus hit, most of the department began working remotely, with the clinical staff working in teams – one week on, one week off – to limit exposure.

And while surgeries were limited to urgent and emergency cases, the team stayed pretty busy handling traumas and other serious neuro injuries and illnesses during the period of restrictions.

Dr. Jea smiles for a photo

“We still provided 24/7 coverage for the kids of Indiana,” Dr. Jea said.

Something else happened during the COVID-19 restrictions. Despite the physical distance between them, the team has gotten closer, he said. They meet daily at 3 p.m. on Zoom to talk about work but also to talk about life.

“We talk about what’s going on, what barriers they have at home to work effectively, what are their worries and concerns. We get it all out on the table,” Dr. Jea said. “We allow ourselves to be vulnerable because we’re very close. It’s only made us stronger as a group.”

This year, Riley is one of only 24 children’s hospitals in the country to rank in all 10 pediatric specialties by U.S. News. To achieve this national distinction, pediatric hospitals must prove that they excel in caring for the sickest, most medically complex patients.

Photo by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,