While the COVID-19 pandemic has stressed health care systems, worsened burnout and elevated behavioral health issues to a national emergency, it’s also created opportunities for innovation. Suzette Oyeku, M.D., M.P.H., division chief of academic general pediatrics, and her team at Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM) mobilized and transformed care to reach new populations in new ways.
Caring for the whole child
As the pandemic exacerbated disparities and anxiety grew, Oyeku and her team began providing resources and screenings for a variety of behavioral concerns and social needs. CHAM prioritized these efforts, regardless of a virtual or in-person appointment, to expand the reach of care.
The team connected patients and families to food pantries, behavioral health providers or any other resources a family might need—whether it be coats, baby formula or crayons. “We had an existing integrated behavioral health program and generous donors that provided a strong foundation for us to include these other screenings,” says Oyeku.
Additionally, CHAM prioritized vaccination efforts for newborns to 6-year-olds despite growing hesitancy to visit health care offices. Thanks to consistent communication with caregivers, Oyeku and her team ensured everyone’s safety and comfort while maintaining vaccination rates at the height of the pandemic.
Caring for faith communities
As a Deacon at Grace Baptist church in Mt. Vernon, New York, Oyeku provides educational sessions on Sunday mornings about health issues. In the spring of 2020, there was a natural shift toward addressing COVID-19-related topics— including safety protocols and vaccine updates—to keep the congregation informed.
“This allowed us to share trusted content with trusted leaders in trusted spaces,” says Oyeku. This led to support and action from the Conference of National Black Churches, in collaboration with the CDC and other partners, where Oyeku assisted in training over 1,000 leaders across the country, laying the groundwork for churches to provide information and host vaccine clinics. “I was reminded of the power of community,” says Oyeku. “And it also gave us a chance to dispel any misinformation.”
Caring for one another
Fifteen years into her career, Oyeku understands the value of rest and resilience. And as a frontline provider through a pandemic, she’s only reminded of their importance. Leaning into her faith community, family, friends and team members is essential, according to Oyeku.
“It sounds simple but shifting my perspective to operate from a space of gratitude and extending that to my team as frequently as possible has helped,” says Oyeku. Whether it’s giving kudos to team members, checking in on each other or ensuring everyone takes time off, Oyeku’s “CHAM-ily” as they call it, has been indispensable.