June 26, 1998

Children’s Hospital spotlighted during Family Reunion

Children's Hospital spotlighted during Family Reunion

Vanderbilt University Children's Hospital and its family-friendly policies played an important role in an interactive session hosted by Vice President Al Gore during Family Re-Union held at Vanderbilt University this week.

The Vanderbilt portion of the session, conducted with three other videoconference sites, included Gore; Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, Vice-chancellor for Health affairs; Dr. William F. Walsh, chief of Nurseries at VUMC; Donnica DeLeon, a parent of 2 1/2-year-old Bobbie born prematurely at Vanderbilt, who now volunteers to talk with other parents of premature babies; and Dara Howe, parent of 14-year-old Alex, who is disabled. Howe is also state coordinator of Family Voices of Tennessee and a member of the Family Advisory Council at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

"For some time now we've operated on the premise that families are the constant in a child's life," Jacobson told the audience. "The health care experience, especially for those associated with a chronic illness or disability, impacts the family as well as the child."

Jacobson highlighted some of VCH's programs that are family-centered, including the Family Resource Center and Families as Classroom Teachers (FACT), a program in which families of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities speak to students both at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and Vanderbilt University.

"We've learned that families of children who have chronic illnesses and disabilities are valuable educational resources," Jacobson said.

Walsh agreed that parents are valuable teaching tools for the medical and nursing students and residents who pass through Vanderbilt University Hospital. The knowledge conveyed allows the students to become better health care providers, he said.

DeLeon said the Parents Reaching Out program has matched her with parents of other premature babies who need someone to talk to besides doctors and nurses.

"I listen. I tell them today is hard. Tomorrow will be a little better. I believe they don't feel as afraid because they feel I know exactly what I'm talking about," she said.

Dara Howe, the mother of Alex, a 14-year-old boy with disabilities, spoke of the importance of family ideas in the design and construction of a new freestanding Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

"This conference comes at a wonderful time and will hopefully lead to some wonderful involvement with our families in the planning and implementation of our new hospital," she said.

The three-year-old Family Advisory Council will meet that need, she said.

"It became evident several years ago at Vanderbilt that the hospital needed a Family Advisory Council," Howe said. "One of the things we've accomplished has been an ongoing orientation for medical staff and the health care team that includes everyone from the attending physician, to those bringing in food trays, to those keeping the hospital room tidy. They are all very important parts of the health care team."

Other institutions participating the videoconference were Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Children's Hospital at Dartmouth in Lebanon, N.H., and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. William Boyle Jr., director of the William E. Boyle Community Pediatrics Program at Children's Hospital of Dartmouth, said that it is important to train pediatricians to practice in the community.

"That's where the children are," he said. "The training must not be delivered in high-tech institutions. If it really takes a village to raise a child, then the residents should go into that village to learn how to care for a child," he said.