Most of Mission Hospital’s walls are varying shades of beige, but when you step off the elevator on the third floor, color greets you. This is where adult care ends and the pediatrics unit begins: Ceiling tiles feature original artwork by young patients and white clouds float on blue walls in a playroom down the hall from a waiting room. It’s the wing of the hospital where kids can get an IV and an iPad at the same time.
It's all part of the plan to provide the best care, says Mission Children's Hospital Medical Director Susan Mims.
"Children are kids,” says Mims. “They have all kinds of fears and concerns about medical care, especially when they're not feeling well. So to have services in a child and family-friendly environment means the world to children, and parents as well," she says.
Recently, the hospital opened Mission Children's Radiology at the Reuter Outpatient Center. Designed specifically with young patients in mind, the 6,000-square-foot imaging center features a jungle-themed MRI room and nature-inspired artwork [see "Mission Health opens news children's radiology center" June 20 Xpress].
But providing high-quality pediatric care isn't only about the art on the walls. "It's not just the place where the services are provided, but how they are provided," says Mims.
In Hendersonville, Park Ridge Health pediatrician Dr. Mary Anne Uritis turns the unfamiliar into something fun. "When I look into a child’s ear, I tell them I have to look for fairies,” she says. “For boys, I tell them I’m looking for frogs. It's all about the way you engage with a child. You've got to make them feel comfortable."
For example, Uritis encourages patients to play doctor with their own medical tools while she completes an examination. This lets children learn and ask questions through play — a natural part of their development.
But these exams aren't just for the patients. “In pediatrics … you’re taking care of parents, too — in terms of emotional support or whatever they need in raising their child, whether their child is healthy or sick.”
And, as Mission Children’s Hospital child life specialist Tara Lynch explains, this family-unit support intensifies when confronting illness or hospitalization.
Child life specialists assist children and their families with psychological, developmental and social needs throughout the hospital process. Whether it’s arranging a hospital visit, discussing ways to cope, or talking about the sights and sounds of a procedure, these specialists work with the medical team to help families and patients during a hospital stay.
“As a kid, I think a lot of times you feel like decisions are made for you, because they are,” says Lunch. “When you come to the hospital, sometimes — for kids and parents — that power gets taken away,” she continues. “But to give any kind of choices and help kids be an active participant in their care instead of a passive one — that can empower them.”
And when a child faces a terminal diagnosis, those options and conversations become even more important. “We help facilitate conversations … to help [young patients] figure out what they want their legacy to be, what they want their story to be and what they want the world to know about them,” Lynch says. Sometimes that legacy can be things like videos or scrapbooks made by the child.
But whether it’s a terminal diagnosis or a brief post-op stay, Lynch advocates for development-appropriate education and dialogue. “It’s important to demystify it and not make it this big scary thing that we can’t talk about,” she says.
With 26 years as a pediatrician, Uritis emphasizes that these early encounters with the medical world might affect health decisions made later in life.
“When you look at people who don’t maintain their well care or their yearly check-ups, it may be that they didn’t have the best experiences,” she says. “They may think, ‘I feel great. Why should I go back? I don’t need preventive health care.’
“And one thing that I think is so important in a pediatric environment, or for a pediatrician’s job, is the idea of preventative health care,” Uritis says, adding, “Preventive care and maintaining a healthy lifestyle starts from the first moment you see the patient … and if you’re fortunate enough to care for that child through the first 18 years, that’s something that, every time you see them, can continue.”
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