• Article
  • July 13, 2014

Children's Hospitals Give Back to the Community and Across the Globe

Children’s hospital employees find a way to help, whether it’s part of their job or on their own time. Here’s how they are stepping out into their communities and into the far corners of the world to provide care, compassion and health education.

By Leslie Fischer

Nemours Children's Health System

In Cambodia, David Beyda, M.D., critical care medicine chair at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, stands in a room full of local teachers, leaders and missionaries and points to a pig’s kidney glistening on a tray in front of him. At children’s hospitals everywhere, staff members and clinicians like Beyda know what it means to provide the best care to the sickest kids. While hospital staff members care as a part of their jobs every day, they are also stepping outside, giving their time, resources or expertise back to the community and the world. No matter what their role is at the hospital, providers and employees are redefining geographic boundaries and ideas of civic responsibility by working locally, regionally and globally to connect with new patient populations, fill gaps in care, and foster personal and professional passions of giving. Whether they are giving up the comforts of home to treat the medically underserved in lands far away or rolling up their sleeves right outside their hospital’s doors, each has an aim to better life for kids. Children’s hospitals nationwide are doing good in their communities and beyond. Here, we’re highlighting just a few programs and the people who are making a difference and the impact these initiatives have on helping those in need.

Awareness aids prevention

In the U.S., emergency departments treat about 9 million kids a year for injuries. Hospitals know that every penny they spend on prevention is tripled in injury-avoidance cost-savings. St. Louis Children’s Hospital; Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas in Austin, Texas; and Hurley Medical Center in Flint Township, Mich., are a few examples of hospitals doing just that—community health education. These efforts contribute to increased awareness and understanding, and as a result, fewer injuries and decreased care costs.

Kids living in and around St. Louis are learning about the hazards of life in one of the nation’s most dangerous cities. But an injury prevention program focused on providing understanding of common community perils is helping make a difference in kids’ lives. Safety Street is a life-size, mobile learning environment that replicates the look of local surroundings. Complete with moving parts, lights and sounds, the hospital has two exhibit sets, one that emulates an urban atmosphere and the other that depicts a rural environment. Completely interactive and functional, kids learn to avoid injury in settings familiar to them. As soon as the innovative set is assembled, Safety Street begins teaching inner-city kids about traffic hazards and stranger danger. “I know how to stay safe around a stranger now, and I had a lot of fun that day,” says Alian, a second grader from St. Louis. And for kids who live in suburban or rural areas, they learn about hazards applicable to their lives, like driveway disasters and front-lawn fears. “We’re increasing injury prevention knowledge in a way that is fun and entertaining, and simultaneously developing a real sense of awareness and education,” says Nicole Kozma, child health advocacy and outreach manager at St. Louis Children’s.

Pre- and post-injury prevention assessments reveal knowledge gains among participants, including a 19 percent increase in mean test scores among kids in kindergarten through second grade. In addition to helping educate kids, Kozma credits her job within the hospital for helping her create stronger connections in the community. “We all play a part in giving back and making change,” Kozma says. “I’m fortunate the hospital gives me resources to do it.” Like many others who work for children’s hospitals, Kozma carries out this type of work every day as part of her job—a demonstration of the hospital’s commitment to providing community benefits.

Dell Children’s is another hospital providing educational programs centered on common community needs. Because the climate in Texas can get dangerously hot, safety issues in this region include heat suffocation and water safety. Well-known in the community for its child passenger safety initiatives, Safe Kids Austin meets people where they are—by sending teams out to set up car seat inspections in populous areas and neighborhoods throughout the city. “I’m a mother of two young boys, so I know the stresses of parenting first-hand,” says Stephanie Hebert, injury prevention coordinator at Dell Children’s. “Anything I can do to alleviate those fears and educate parents motivates me to give back this way.”

Staff members at some hospitals, like Hurley Medical Center, are giving their time to help address issues in public health. With programming intended for children, adults and senior citizens, staff members and clinicians are going out into the community to prevent injuries at all stages of life. Whether they are collaborating with local senior centers to teach fall prevention classes or meeting with teens to talk about the dangers of distracted driving, they are committed to ensuring the general population is safe. “I cannot convey the importance of this work enough,” says Nicole Lee, injury prevention coordinator at Hurley Medical Center. “Through our efforts, we inspire populations toward educated decisions, safety and improved quality of life.” Coupled with singular initiatives and in partnership with local police, fire and legal experts, the hospital has also put trauma prevention programs into place to meet community need.

How employees and hospitals benefit

Community-based programming is useful to prevent injury and inform the public, but community members are not the only ones benefiting from these programs. Hospital staff members who administer these events are gaining just as much value as those they are teaching. Institutions with civic responsibility programs are seeing a boost in employee morale, enhanced community networks, enriched emotional lives and increased personal and professional satisfaction. Both small, local hospitals and large, integrated health care systems are benefitting from cultures steeped in giving back.

The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center has recently begun to participate in OU Live to Give, an ancillary volunteer program of physicians and staff members who donate their time in various capacities to help make Oklahoma a better place. Born out of an employee wellness program, the organization created the initiative to enhance workplace satisfaction for clinicians and staff members, and they’ve far surpassed the system’s initial participation goals. “Organized giving has brought us closer together as a family,” says Kelli Hayward, physician marketing project manager. “It helps us build teamwork and strengthen our spirit of camaraderie.”

A win-win for employee morale and community benefit, Hayward has witnessed community giving evolve into a central part of hospital culture. For example, over the last few years, Elizabeth Barthel has empowered teens around positive change, given food to the hungry and helped provide shelter to the homeless—she has given back to her community in countless ways. And she did it all in addition to her day job as a patient services representative in Oklahoma University’s Physicians Community Health Clinic, with her employer’s encouragement through a corporate philanthropy program. “If kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see, then giving is the easiest way I can help heal others,” Barthel says.

Recognizing the power of structured organizational giving, hospital initiatives at Nemours Children’s Health System have demonstrated that corporate philanthropy is integral to its employees across the system. For its first annual day of giving, the organization created a common experience throughout the entire system, a sense of culture, and a bridge between hospital campuses spread hundreds of miles apart. By coming together as an organization with a shared singular goal of philanthropy, Nemours Cares Day allows employees the opportunity to unite in action, purpose and value as they collectively volunteer their time over a weekend. Through activities like a system-wide food collection, blood drives, educational sessions, community cleanups and increased community access to food through conveniently located pick-up centers, Nemours successfully enhanced employee job satisfaction and morale, improved teamwork, promoted leadership and skill development, and strengthened communication among staff members and clinicians in departments that don’t typically work together.

While these are benefits any employer would agree are great, the community value is also huge. During the first Nemours Cares Day, the organization contributed four tons of food to families in need, donated 84 pints of blood, and educated more than 700 families with health, safety and injury prevention tips. “At the end of the day, we were just having fun together to meet a community need,” says Anne Wright, community engagement officer for Nemours in the Delaware Valley and a key strategist behind the initiative. And because the event provided so much personal meaning to employees, she says these efforts will improve employee engagement and performance long-term.

Beyond our borders

When local communities need support, children’s hospitals are stepping up. But sometimes the voices of the underserved are quieted by distance, communication barriers and broken links between cultures. This is too often the case for some of the world’s most vulnerable children, living in extreme, resource-limited settings in need of medical care. Children's hospitals can play a role, and in some cases they are redefining their sense of community to ensure children worldwide have access to some level of health care.

Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston is one organization that recognizes the need for global reach. The organization has made global health a top priority, weaving it into the fabric of their mission and values. With more than 10 years of experience providing direct care and treatment for children in Botswana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Romania, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Brazil, Mexico, Angola, El Salvador, Guatemala and Panama, the hospital has cultivated a multinational program and is making real change. By partnering with foreign governments, Texas Children’s is creating programs that provide building blocks for long-term capacity, care and treatment.

Hospital clinicians and staff members provide locals with training programs to help slowly break down barriers that otherwise prevent access to treatment for women and children. But they aren’t in it alone. “Everything we do is in collaboration with our medical school partner,” says Michael Walsh, Texas Children’s global health initiatives director. Through an affiliation with the Baylor College of Medicine, the two groups have successfully created in-country organizations or satellite entities across the globe that are part of Texas Children’s. Under the guidance and direction afforded through the program, the organization staffs some outpost hospitals with local employees to help sustainably deliver health services. And in countries where prolonged care isn’t possible, they’ve created the Texas Children’s Global Health Corps, a training program that staffs about 40 American pediatricians at a site where they are tasked with augmenting care or training other local professionals. “Children’s hospitals are at their best when responding to community need, and we simply redefined our definition of community,” Walsh says. “Global health has little to do with geography and more to do with underserved communities.” Physicians return with knowledge of work in resource-limited settings—helping them envision new care models in their own communities.

Using a different staffing model, Beyda’s Medical Mercy, the medical arm of One Child Matters, is a faith-based sponsorship organization helping meet the needs of children in poverty-stricken areas of the world. Under Beyda’s guidance, the philanthropic, volunteerbased organization provides prevention strategies, basic health care, routine monitoring and critical care to children in developing countries. Beyda’s abbreviated medical school curricula and comprehensive, robust medical health care provider training program helps students learn to fill practical medical needs with resources available to them.

A seasoned servant, Beyda is focused on the big picture. “It’s not about the ‘what,’ it’s about the ‘who,’” he says. “Who is the person we are serving, and how can we show him or her we care? That’s what we’re all about.” Since 2004, Beyda and his team have made more than 50 pediatric service trips. With longevity in mind, he established clinics in Cambodia, Swaziland and Egypt, and has directed care in numerous other locations around the globe including Ethiopia, Kenya and Honduras.

Similar to Beyda’s work, staff members from children’s hospitals across the U.S. are giving back on a global scale through Project Perfect World, a nonprofit organization and volunteer effort bringing orthopedic surgical services to children via week-long mission trips. “Giving back to people in need is central to what we all do,” says Pete Allen, area senior vice president of sourcing operations at Novation, a group purchasing organization for children’s hospitals. As a Project Perfect World board member, Allen’s affiliation with children’s hospitals helps him leverage contacts to recruit volunteers and donations. He says when employees get involved in philanthropy and volunteering, everybody wins. “It not only betters the corporation, but also improves company culture,” Allen says. “As leaders in the industry, we are in a position to act as frontrunners in civic engagement.”

Engaged clinicians and staff members talking about civic engagement and corporate responsibility is one thing, but actually organizing these efforts can be another. With this in mind, most administrators and program coordinators had modest expectations around participation. Understanding the demands of providing clinical care, most institutions were pleasantly surprised when they witnessed high levels of engagement. “We had hundreds of responses to our initial calls for support and the turn-out was heartening,” Wright says. Even more surprising, enthusiasm to lead volunteer efforts came from all levels of the organization, which led to professional development for Nemours staff members who previously didn’t have the opportunity, she says.

OU Medical Center saw similar results, according to Hayward. Employees had a strong desire to give back to the community through a platform that made participation easy. They enjoyed the hassle-free perks of an organized program that facilitated monthly community-action opportunities. Even when funding got tight, organizers saw proof of employee engagement. Initially, the program used financial incentives to attract participants, but had to pull monetary rewards. Despite this, employee participation held steady and increased. “People began giving out of their own convictions, and we couldn’t be happier,” Hayward says. The organization recognizes exceptional volunteerism with monthly and annual awards of distinction.

Time and money

Even when the passion to participate exists, logistics are always at play when it comes to employee altruism. In today’s fast paced, budget-conscious environment, fitting in time to give back is not always easy, and different hospitals use various strategies to manage time and resources to make it happen. Some participants, like those involved with Project Perfect World and Medical Mercy, are volunteering in the truest sense of the word. The organizations raise their own funds and participants give back on their own time. Texas Children’s global initiatives and St. Louis Children’s Safety Street incorporate the work into an employee’s position or create positions where 100 percent of the workload is focused on community outreach. Some hospitals are taking a blended approach to civic responsibility, asking clinicians and staff members to give their own time, while also catering to the needs of staff whose schedules won’t allow it, as is the case of Nemours Cares Day and OU Live to Give. Both programs organize and facilitate the opportunity to participate, but ask employees to give their own time or seek management approval for any paid time off. Also, some employers tailor corporate giving opportunities to accommodate employee schedules and limitations. Hospitals bring volunteerism to staff through at-work food drives or care-package assembly lines, and hospitals enable participation during breaks.

Leaving a legacy

Hospital clinicians and staff members are lending a hand, leveraging expertise, serving the underserved and advancing their own individual missions of care. Capturing the spirit and inspiration behind these initiatives, Beyda asks one question when discussing the effect hospital employees can have on the world, “What will you leave behind?”

Send questions or comments to magazine@childrenshospitals.org.