Local kids most important to hospital

December 1, 2006
By

LOU MANCINELLI

Child health care advocates at Children’s Hospital Boston say they are dedicated to and focused on community investment as a way to develop healthy children and families as well as healthy neighborhood relationships in Boston. They are showing it by putting more of a focus in the hospital’s nearby neighborhood, Jamaica Plain.

“We are now focusing on the neighborhoods right around the hospital, especially Mission Hill, Roxbury and Jamaica Plain,” said Children’s Hospital President Dr. Jim Mandell in a recent meeting with the Gazette.

“We feel like they our are neighbors in every sense of the word,” said Kate Weldon, a manager in child advocacy at Children’s.

“The way we approach community benefits is to focus on things that improve health and the community,” she said. “If you improve the overall quality of life of the neighborhood, you also improve the well-being of the child.”

Children’s Hospital Boston is the only hospital in the area that serves as an independent pediatric facility. The hospital’s Office of Child Advocacy works on direct community programs related to child health, community and government relations, Weldon said.

“There are lots of other hospitals that focus on everything else,” she said. “We focus on children, adolescence and families.”

“When people think of Children’s Hospital they think of patient care first,” said Weldon. “But we also do research, education, community health and community service.”

Children’s officials estimate that last year they invested close to $45 million in community programs.

“If you’re talking about trying to improve health it’s not just about the individual child or family,” said Dr. Shari Nethersole, medical director of Children’s health. “You have to look at the community as a whole.”

“And recognizing that Children’s is a hospital with all sorts of high-tech research that makes so many inroads to combating chronic disease, it’s not acceptable to have kids in our community who are not thriving when we [the medical field as a whole] know the kind of basic things that make them thrive.”

Two main categories illustrate Children’s neighborhood partnerships, Weldon said. The first focuses on neighborhood partnerships and community health.

One example is the community asthma initiative. Children’s identifies kids with asthma from the emergency room or who have been hospitalized. It provides them with education and proper treatment they cannot receive otherwise.

“We are not neglecting the rest of the city,” said Nethersole. “There is not enough time, money or people [for the entire city] right now.”

“Over time if we have success and an impact on improving kids asthma, then hopefully we can expand to people in other neighborhoods.”

A second example is Childrens’ passenger care safety program. Through the Martha Eliot Health Center in Jackson Square the hospital maintains a regular distribution of protective equipment such as car seats, and bike and sport helmets. This program is done in conjunction with the Injury Free Coalition for Kids, a collaboration of a number of JP groups, residents and businesses such as the Tree of Life.

“The number one cause of children’s deaths are incidental accidents such as falls, car accidents and drownings,” said Nethersole.

The second type of Children’s community investment is providing sponsorships and money to support local organizations, Weldon said.

Children’s has provided grants to expand its Children’s health agenda to JP groups such as the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF). The HSTF used the money to support a program to get girls involved in physical activities to benefit their health.

“We feel we have a good foundation,” said Weldon. “Focus on the community is where we are and where we have always been and where we always plan to be.”

Children’s has operated the Martha Eliot Health Center since 1978. The center provides a spectrum of primary health care services to Mission Hill, Jamaica Plain, Roslindale and Roxbury and supports programs and initiatives with a focus on prevention.

For example, when doctors at Martha Eliot started to notice high incidents of obesity in patients, the center formed two programs focused on fitness and nutrition.

“I’m iN Charge (INC),” helps young overweight people gain access to clinical care and other community services, and “We Got Next” engages girls in counseling, educational workshops and programs to encourage physical activity, according to the center’s web site.

Children’s will also host a series of six lectures teaching about management techniques for children with asthma. The event was kicked off with a Healthy Family Night a few weeks ago, a hospital spokesperson said.

Children’s recently announced a major 10-year expansion plan that will include an addition to its main hospital building and construction of a new clinical care tower and a new research tower.

While construction is not expected to begin until 2008, Children’s needs city approval before that. Part of the approval process for a non-profit organization such as Children’s involves demonstrating “community benefits.” While neighborhood programs have long been part of the Children’s mission, the increase in local focus also helps fulfill that community benefits requirement.

The expansion plan likely also will involve a negotiated payment to the city. That money may be targeted to programs serving local children, said Charles Weinstein, Children’s vice president of development, at a recent city meeting about the plan.

“We want to keep being a good neighbor,” said Weldon, “to ensure that Boston is a strong as could be.”

Sandra Storey and John Ruch contributed to this article.