Anyone can be overwhelmed when they go into the hospital for treatment, but for children, the unfamiliar sights and sounds can be even more intimidating. “We had a young child, who was admitted to the hospital after being physically abused,” recalls Dr. John Mantovani, chairman of pediatrics at Mercy Children’s Hospital. “She had some injury to her abdomen and was very fearful and quiet. Although she was a very verbal preschooler, she wasn’t really talking.”
That’s when one of the hospital’s Child Life specialists stepped in, playing some games with puppets and on an iPad, and building up a rapport. “She was able to communicate with her, and the child was able to tell us what had happened and how she had been injured, which enabled us to take the appropriate steps to protect her and provide the care that she needed,” Mantovani says. This vital Child Life program will be supported by Mercy Health Foundation’s upcoming Benefit for the Kids. The 10th annual benefit includes a week of events, highlighted by a golf tournament on July 29 at Whitmoor Country Club and a dinner auction on Aug. 2 at The Ritz-Carlton.
Each year, the benefit supports a different project at the Children’s Hospital, and past ‘fund-a-need’ beneficiaries have included a rooftop garden in the Children’s Hospital, an expanded pediatric transport program and renovation of the ambulatory surgery unit, Mantovani notes. With the growth of Mercy Children’s Hospital, the Child Life program’s expansion will help support medical teams, patients and families alike. “There are a lot of things that are part of children’s health care that are not necessarily the nuts and bolts—it’s not the chemotherapy drugs or the MRI scan—there’s a whole context and environment that has to be provided,” he says, adding that the hope is for funds brought in at Benefit for the Kids to double the program’s size.
“The focus is on making the experience as positive and pain-free as possible,” Mantovani says. “We spend a lot of time not only talking about clinical excellence, but the patient experience. Child Life is a key component of that focus for us.” In addition to calming children with games before and during medical treatment, Child Life specialists—who are trained and certified in fields like child development and psychology—play many other important roles in the hospital, he says. Those roles include serving as a liaison with a child’s school in long-term care situations, catering to the needs of siblings of children being treated, and providing counseling and support on the scene when a tragedy happens.
“The typical health-care funding doesn’t support those activities,” Mantovani says. “We’re lucky to be in a position to raise money for them through Mercy Health Foundation.” Chris Carpenter is the honorary chair of Benefit for the Kids, along with event co-chairs Greg Twardowski and Whity Meyer, golf chair Rob Rubbelke, and auction co-chairs Janice Bruns-Mantovani and Karen Kahn. “As Mercy Health Foundation board members, Whity Meyer and I felt strongly about co-chairing this event because we’ve seen the immense, direct impact it’s had on the patients at Mercy Children’s Hospital over the past 10 years,” Twardowski says. “Between the golf tournament and dinner auction, there are opportunities for everyone to join the cause to support our community’s kids.”