October 27, 2000

Patients first concern at Children’s Hospital

Featured Image

Albert Reynolds, Ph.D., left, and Panos Anastasiadis’, Ph.D., research is featured on the cover of September’s issue of Nature Cell Biology. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Patients first concern at Children’s Hospital

An emotional plea from a new mother to make Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital more family friendly was all it took five years ago to convince VCH officials that a change needed to take place.

The mother, whose daughter had a tumor successfully removed from her abdomen, waited hours to see her baby in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, but it was a busy day. When she finally did get to see her daughter, the infant had recovered enough to be moved to a regular floor. She was doing so well that a staff member thoughtfully placed a pink bow in her hair.

It was the bow that upset the mother.

“There wasn’t time to let me in to see my child, but there was time to put a bow in her hair,” the mother wrote in a letter to Terrell Smith, MSN. “I’m the mother. I wanted to be the first to play with her and the first to put a bow in her hair,” the letter read.

Smith, administrative director of Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital, said the letter opened the eyes of the VCH administration and caused them to re-think the role of families of pediatric patients in the hospital. Shortly after she received the letter, Smith attended a speech about family-centered care. “I was ready to listen,” she said.

The result, she told a group of nurses attending the 16th annual Pediatric Nursing conference held recently at Opryland Hotel, was making family-centered care the central philosophy of a new mission statement in 1995. The philosophy statement, which must be signed by all new VCH employees, recognizes that families are a vital part of every child’s health care team. The mission statement is based on the word FOCUS: Family-centered care; One team; Continuous quality improvement; Unique environment for children; Service excellence.

“It’s so important that we all be on the same page,” Smith told the group.

To demonstrate that the hospital takes their philosophy of family-centered care seriously, they formed a 20-member Family Advisory Council. The council is chaired by a parent and includes members of the hospital administration and Child Life and is open to staff member participation.

The FAC and the hospital’s Pediatric Advisory Committee (PAC) have been heavily involved in the planning of the new Children’s Hospital. They have helped in deciding everything from the types of food that will be offered in the new hospital to how much space is needed in the inpatient rooms. These councils have partnered with faculty and staff to create the vision for the new Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, scheduled to be completed in 2003.

The FAC has helped develop a patient satisfaction survey and in-room information guide. Members of the committee have input in hiring the hospital’s staff and participate in orientation for all new staff members. Another VCH program with family participation is Families as Classroom Teachers, a resource program made up of families of children with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Dara Howe, one of the founding members of the Family Advisory Council, joined Smith at the conference podium. Her 16-year-old son, Alex, has been a frequent patient at VCH.

Howe shared her recommendations to hospital staff with the group, including “always introduce yourself; try to see the world through my eyes; give it to me straight and with sensitivity; don’t fear saying I don’t know; and learn from my experiences with my child.”

“No one knows my child better than me,” she said.

Smith also told the group about the hospital’s bereavement program, formed when the mother of a longtime patient told the hospital administration she felt “abandoned” after her child died because communication with the caregivers at the hospital ceased.

“She loved us, yet she never heard from us again,” Smith said. “Now, through our bereavement program, we send out cards after a child has died, signed by staff, at particular intervals like the child’s birthday or on the anniversary of his or her death,” she said. There is also a hospital-sponsored remembering ceremony.

“We want family-centered care to be our cornerstone,” Smith said. “We’ve come a long way since that letter arrived in 1995. We’ve accomplished a great deal, but we still have a long way to go.”