Author Archives: ChildrensMN

Life changing: My time with Children’s Youth Advisory Council

Will Cohen (right) has been a member of Children's Youth Advisory Council for the past three years.

Will Cohen (front) has been a member of Children’s Youth Advisory Council for the past three years.

Will Cohen

My experience as a patient at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota inspired me to become a member of the Youth Advisory Council, a group comprised of kids who help influence and shape the work of Children’s.

For three years I’ve been a proud member of the YAC. Although words can’t do justice to how thankful I am for the program, I’ll try to describe its wonders and the life lessons I’ve learned. It took just one meeting for me to know that I had joined a special group. The atmosphere around the council is unparalleled, nothing but positivity, and it’s my favorite part about being a member. People are happy and ready to make the hospitals and clinics better places.

Each meeting is unique and full of opportunities to learn because each kid — current or former patients — has a story. Almost all YAC members have been treated at Children’s for serious conditions. During the first meeting of the year, members explain why they are on the council and describe the medical obstacles they have overcome. Some of the stories are eye-opening and remind me how grateful I am for my health. During meetings, we also take tours, meet people, including staff, and explore growing areas of the hospitals.

subscribe_blogI owe the YAC and Children’s so much gratitude. My social and communication skills are better because I’ve been a part of the program. I’ll never forget when CEO Bob Bonar Jr. attended a meeting in January, one month after he started at Children’s, and had a conversation with each and every one of us as we introduced ourselves.

Most importantly, Children’s has made me a better person. When I make decisions for anything, I always think of the YAC. I treat people as they should be treated, with kindness and without judgment. I am more sensitive and respectful to people’s feelings, beliefs and opinions.

I have more empathy for people in need and feel the desire to extend my hand further daily to be more helpful.

I cannot forget the memories and lessons that I’ve gained throughout my years with the Youth Advisory Council. It has been an unforgettable ride, and I’ll always stay connected with Children’s. I am forever thankful for everything the YAC has given me.

Will Cohen is a recent graduate of Hopkins High School and will attend Kansas University this fall.

Life jackets greatly reduce risk of drowning

A life jacket will provide significant protection for your little ones in and around water. (iStock photo)

A life jacket will provide significant protection for your little ones in and around water. (iStock photo)

Dex Tuttle

According to the Minnesota Water Safety Coalition, it’s estimated that half of all drowning events among recreational boaters could have been prevented if life jackets were worn.

As a parent, it doesn’t take much to convince me that the safety of my daughter is important, and more specifically, directly my responsibility. This statistic is alarming. Especially since drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children ages 14 and younger.

My daughter, Quinnlyn, loves the water. It’s easy to get caught up in her excitement and joy as she splashes around and giggles that addicting toddler laugh, so much so that I often forget the dangers inherent in water for a child who is oblivious to them.

subscribe_blogStill, as an attentive parent, it’s hard for me to believe that drowning is an ever-present danger for my little one. That’s why it’s important to consider the staggering statistics around near-drowning incidents.

Since 2001, an average of 3,700 children sustained nonfatal near-drowning-related injuries. To spare you the details, check out this article.

When protecting your children around water, there’s little to nothing that can supplement uninterrupted supervision. However, a life jacket will provide significant protection for your little ones and help instill a culture of safety in your family. Here’s how to know if it fits right (thanks to the United States Coast Guard):

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard-approved on the label on the inside of the jacket.
  • Ensure that the jacket you select for your child is appropriate for his or her weight, and be sure it’s in good condition. A ripped or worn-out jacket can drastically reduce its effectiveness.
  • Before you know it, football season will be here again (YES!), so consider the universal signal for a touchdown — after the life jacket is on and buckled, have your child raise his or her arms straight in the air. Pull up on the arm openings and make sure the jacket doesn’t ride up to the chin; it’s best to find out that it’s too loose before getting in the water.

At Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, we care for more pediatric emergency and trauma patients than any other health care system in our region, seeing about 90,000 kids each year between our St. Paul and Minneapolis hospitals. Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis is the area’s only Level I pediatric trauma center in a hospital dedicated to only kids, which means we offer the highest level of care to critically injured kids. From the seriously sick to the critically injured, we’re ready for anything.

When it’s critical, so is your choice – Children’s Level I Pediatric Trauma Center, Minneapolis.

Dex Tuttle is Children’s injury prevention program coordinator.

How to prevent, treat bug bites, stings

Erin Dobie, CNP

Minnesota summers bring warm weather and opportunities for our kids to go outside, exploring and playing in nature. Pesky insects often irritate or interrupt summer fun. Learn how to prevent insect bites, treat bites when they do occur, remove ticks and how to know when you should seek medical attention for your child.

subscribe_blogHow to treat bites

Insect bites and bee stings react because of venom injected into the skin. The severity of reaction depends on your child’s sensitivity to the venom. Most reactions are mild, causing redness, local swelling and irritation or itching. These usually will go away in two to three days. Calamine lotion or any anti-itch gel or cream may help soothe the itching.

Bee stings cause immediate pain and a red bump, but usually the discomfort lessens within 15 minutes. More than 10 bee stings at once (extremely rare) may cause a more-severe reaction with vomiting, diarrhea and headache. Allergic reactions to bee stings can be severe and quickly get worse. These reactions include difficulty breathing, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, or confusion. Children who have a severe reaction need immediate medical attention, and you should call 911. If the child has a known bee allergy and an Epi-pen is available, the Epi-pen should be administered in addition to calling 911. If a stinger is present, try to rub it off with something flat such as the edge of a credit card. Do not try to squeeze the stinger out or try to dig it out. If it does not come out easily, soak the area in water and leave it alone to come out on its own.

Tick bites don’t often cause much of a local reaction. They’re primarily concerning because they can transmit infectious diseases. Ticks are prevalent in Minnesota. They’re generally found on the ground in wooded or heavily bushy areas. Ticks can’t jump or fly. Generally they climb grass and climb onto someone to attach as we brush up against them. Ticks are most active during the spring and summer months.

There are a few different infectious diseases that can be transmitted by ticks, but the most common one found in the Minnesota-Wisconsin area is Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi). To infect a person, a tick typically must be attached to the skin for at least 36 hours. The incubation period, the time from infection to being symptomatic, is anytime between three and 30 days.

Lyme disease can present in many stages. Early localized stage often includes a red ring-like rash (or may resemble a “bull’s-eye” target) that slowly expands. Other symptoms include headache, fever, joint or muscle aches and overall not feeling well or excessively tired. If your child develops these symptoms within a few days to weeks after tick exposure you should seek medical attention to evaluate for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is evaluated by medical history, physical examination and sometimes a blood test. It may take the body several weeks to develop antibodies and the blood test may not show up positive early in the disease. Most cases of Lyme disease are easily and successfully treated with a few weeks of antibiotics.

How to prevent a bite

Prevention is the key to avoiding insect bites. I recommend insect repellent that contains at least 20 percent DEET. The higher concentration of DEET does not indicate better repellent; it just means that the repellent will last longer. Most repellents can be used on infants and children older than 2 months. Other effective repellents contain permethrin, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535. Permethrin-treated clothing is an option if the child will be camping or on wooded hikes. Finally, showering or bathing soon after exposure to tick areas is important to check for and remove ticks. Parents should pay close attention and check children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in their hair on their scalp. Dogs should be treated for ticks, but also checked as the ticks can ride into the home on the dogs then attach to a person later.

How to remove a tick

If you find a tick attached to your child’s skin, there is no need to panic.

  1. Use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this often can cause the tick’s mouth to break off and remain in the skin. If the mouth breaks off, try to remove it. If it cannot be removed easily, don’t dig it out; just wash and allow it to fall out on its own.
  3. After removing the tick, clean the skin with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

StoryCorps® Legacy comes to Children’s

Core Legacy team members include (from left): Gautam Srikishan, Alisa Linne, Eddie Gonzalez, Angie Boyd, Jill Swenson, Stephanie Davis, Elizabeth McDonough and Jocelyn Bessette Gorlin

Core Legacy team members include (from left): Gautam Srikishan, Alisa Linne, Eddie Gonzalez, Angie Boyd, Jill Swenson, Stephanie Davis, Elizabeth McDonough and Jocelyn Bessette Gorlin

Jocelyn Bessette Gorlin, Alissa Line, Angie Boyd and Eddie Gonzalez 

A few of the questions people have asked each other in the StoryCorps® Legacy family interviews facilitated in the hematology department at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota include: “Why do you love me?” “How did you feel when they told you I had hemophilia or sickle cell disease?” “What kinds of things do you like to do together?” “What’s the most challenging thing about living with hemophilia or sickle cell disease?”

So far, by sharing their stories, families have made meaning of their experience and embraced the program. The program soon will be implemented in other clinics at Children’s in the near future.

subscribe_blogHave you heard of StoryCorps®? 

Maybe you’ve heard of StoryCorps® or listened to their stories. StoryCorps® is a national oral-history program sponsored by National Public Radio that gives people of all backgrounds and beliefs the opportunity to record, preserve and share their life stories. So far, more than 80,000 people have recorded their story since 2003. Many people have heard of StoryCorps® by listening to its weekly broadcast on NPR.

StoryCorps® Legacy focuses on the stories of families of people affected by serious or chronic illnesses. Legacy partners with several hospitals and specialty health care centers, nationwide. Because Legacy is privately funded by a grant, there is no direct cost to utilize the program.

Children’s currently is facilitating Legacy interviews with the families of kids who have bleeding disorders such as hemophilia and von Willebrand’s disease and families of children with sickle cell disease. The partnership with the sickle cell population is particularly important because, historically, there are few research projects or special programs that have been available to these families.

How did StoryCorps® Legacy come to Children’s? 

In 2014, we applied to Legacy to be its partner. Throughout the year, legal negotiations occurred between Children’s and Legacy. Monthly meetings were held by a core Legacy team to define goals and discuss recruitment. To accomplish all of this, we needed to adopt a multidisciplinary approach, including the input from medicine, nursing, social work, administration and the legal department.

Finally in March, two enthusiastic members of the Legacy staff, Eddie Gonzales and Gautam Srikishan, flew to Minneapolis from New York for a four-day orientation. On the first day, they presented an overview of Legacy to the entire hematology staff (see photo). The subsequent three days involved Eddie and Gautam teaching our core Legacy team members how to use the recording equipment, which is housed in a portable rolling backpack. The recording equipment then was left with us to facilitate family interviews for the next three months.

Gautam Srikishan (top) from Legacy assists core Legacy team members in facilitating interviews.

Gautam Srikishan (top) from Legacy assists core Legacy team members in facilitating interviews.

What is it like for the families to participate in Legacy interviews? 

Families who express an interest are sent an orientation packet that includes possible questions to ask in the interview. Families then choose two or more family members or acquaintances to participate in the conversation. On the day of the interview, they arrive at the clinic and are escorted to a quiet room located below the clinic that’s designated for audio recording. One of our trained core Legacy team members then facilitates the conversation by audio recording it and assisting participants to ask each other questions. Each family spends about 1½ hours with us, but the actual recording time is 40 minutes. There is no video recording, but we do take fun photos at the end of the interview.

What happens to the recordings?

Elizabeth McDonough, RN (top right), facilitates a Legacy interview with Rae Blaylark and her son, Treyvon.

Elizabeth McDonough, RN (top right), facilitates a Legacy interview with Rae Blaylark and her son, Treyvon.

A CD is made from the audio recording, and the families can choose to keep the recording, or they may share it with Children’s, StoryCorps®, and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Sharing their story can help other families also dealing with chronic illnesses. For example, we hope to use these stories in creative ways such as placing the stories on iPads in clinic so other families may learn what it’s like to raise a child with a bleeding disorder or sickle cell disease.

For African American families, there is an added option for sharing their story with the Griot Initiative. “Griot” is a French word that refers to the tradition of oral history in West Africa. A griot is a West African storyteller. Presently there is a new building in construction at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., called the Museum of African American History and Culture. Families can choose to send an additional copy of their CD to be archived in this new building. This has been a popular option particularly for the families of children with sickle cell disease as sickle cell predominantly affects people of African American descent.

Who is involved in the project? 

The partnership between Legacy and Children’s could not have been possible without the effort of many people, specifically the core Legacy team who are presently facilitating the interviews. This team includes Elizabeth McDonough, RN; and Alisa Linne, LICSW (both from the sickle cell program); Jill Swenson, LICSW; and Jocelyn Bessette Gorlin, RN, CPNP (both from the department of hemophilia and thrombosis); Angie Boyd, MBA; and Stephanie Davis (both in administration in hematology). Medical staff includes Susan Kearney, MD; and Margaret Heisel-Kurth, MD (medical director and co-director of the department of hemophilia and thrombosis) and Stephen Nelson, MD (medical director of the sickle cell program).

The dedication of this team has been humbling.  McDonough, for example, has 30 years of experience working with the families in the sickle cell clinic. She worked tirelessly to recruit families, read numerous books of published StoryCorps® interviews and became the Legacy expert-in-residence.  Boyd spent hours coordinating the logistics of the orientation schedule.  Davis sent letters of invitation to hundreds of families, scheduled appointments and coordinating all core Legacy team members’ schedules.

What’s next? 

The next clinic group at Children’s to partner with Legacy will be the International Pleuropulmonary Blastoma (PPB) Registry, also in the department of cancer and blood disorders, starting Aug. 7, when they host the fifth meeting for patients and families affected by this rare childhood lung cancer. The PPB registry’s participation will be novel because in addition to audio recordings they plan to use video technology to facilitate some interviews for international families who cannot make the meeting. The coordination between Legacy and the PPB registry is being coordinated by Gretchen Williams, Ann Blake with Yoav Messinger, MD; and Kris Ann Schultz, MD. Trisha Anderson is the family liaison. For more information, contact Anne Blake at (612) 813-7115.

Interviews for the bleeding disorder and sickle cell families continue at Children’s each Thursday until the end of July. If you or someone you know is interested in obtaining more information or wish to participate in Legacy, contact Stephanie Davis at (612) 813-7483. There is some flexibility in scheduling, so call to inquire.

Special thanks to additional individuals who made the collaboration possible: Rebecca Wright, MPH; Susan Sencer, MD; and Vicky Schaefers, CNP (hematology/oncology); Clark Smith, MD; Becky Bedore and Christa Steene-Lyons (senior administration); Nancy Martinson and Cory Fitzpatrick (legal); Lisa Buchal (social work); Madeline Riggs (communications); Seth Kanne and Amy Hebert (Star Studio)

Pair of Minnesota teens make pillowcases for hospitalized kids

Hannah Bremer (left) and Sophia Schmidt established the Sweet Dreams Project as high school freshmen.

Hannah Bremer (left) and Sophia Schmidt established the Sweet Dreams Project as high school freshmen.

Members in the foundation at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota decided to spend June celebrating kids giving to kids through the creation of Youth Philanthropy Month. Throughout the month, we’ll shine a spotlight on kids who have donated their time, money or efforts to Children’s.

Today we’d like to introduce Hannah Bremer and Sophia Schmidt, both 18, a pair of Rogers High School seniors (graduating today!) and founders of the Sweet Dreams Project, an effort to make pillowcases for patients at Children’s.

What did you/your group donate to Children’s?

Our original and primary project is our homemade pillowcases. Our pillowcase project was inspired by the homemade pillowcases Sophia received from her grandmother when she was a patient at Children’s six years ago. Remembering how the pillowcases lifted Sophia’s spirits and made her hospital room feel more like home, we decided to make our own pillowcases for patients when we were freshmen in high school. What started as a way to spend our summer vacation soon turned into something much bigger, and we have since expanded our project by collecting thousands of teddy bears and craft supplies for patients through drives in our community.

Why did you/your group choose to donate to Children’s?

Both of us have been patients at Children’s, so we know on some level what it is like to be a hospitalized child. We also know that Children’s treats every single child with the utmost care and respect, and we wanted to give back in a small way.

subscribe_blogHow does donating/giving to others make you feel?

We both have been blessed with good health, and to be able to pay it forward in this way is incredibly rewarding. Just knowing that we were able to bring a little bit of happiness to someone going through such a difficult time makes everything worth it.

How would you encourage others to support Children’s?

Through our project, we have learned that it doesn’t take much to help others. It doesn’t have to be a huge donation or a lot of work. Just a small gift, like a homemade pillowcase or a new box of crayons or a cuddly stuffed animal, can make a big difference. What seems ordinary to you might make another child’s day extraordinary.

If you won the lottery and shared some of your winnings with Children’s what would you want that money to fund?

We would want the money to fund something entertaining for the patients. Having something fun to do can provide an escape from whatever the patient is facing and be beneficial to the healing process. It’s very important to us that patients get a chance to be a regular kid and have fun doing the things they would normally do at school or with their friends.

TEDx Talk: “The untapped potential of today’s youth” w/ Hannah Bremer and Sophia Schmidt

3-year-old donates birthday money to Children’s

Vienna Rodriguez, 3, and her family donated $200 to Children's for her birthday. (Photo by Sandra Aguilera Photography)

Vienna Rodriguez, 3, of St. Paul, Minn., and her family donated $200 to Children’s for her birthday. (Photo by Sandra Aguilera Photography)

On their special day, generous kids (and kids at heart) from across Minnesota are choosing to celebrate in a unique way. As members of Children’s Cake & Candles Club, they enlist the help of their family and friends to support our patients. Instead of birthday gifts, members request that money, toys, books or blankets be sent to our hospitals. By helping out other kids, members are learning about the power of generosity… and getting a birthday experience they won’t soon forget!

Meet Vienna, a 3-year-old girl whose family donated $200 to Children’s instead of buying her birthday presents.

subscribe_blogName: Vienna May Rodriguez

Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.

Age: 3

What did you/your group donate to Children’s?

We donated $200 to Children’s – St. Paul.

Why did you/your group choose to donate to Children’s?

For my daughter’s birthday, we decided we wanted to donate money instead of her getting presents, she also thought it would be nice for the children in the hospital to benefit from the donation.

How does donating/giving to others make you feel?

It makes me feel good to give back, especially to kids. My daughter’s story is one within itself, and we felt thankful for everything Children’s did for us while she stayed there that we knew donating would be an awesome way to say thank you to the staff and other children that could benefit from it.

How would you encourage others to support Children’s?

I would encourage others to support Children’s by telling them how their donation can help in so many ways at Children’s and how they are already adding awesome new things for both the patients, their siblings and parents to make them feel more comfortable.

If you won the lottery and shared some of your winnings with Children’s, what would you want that money to fund?

I would definitely want some of the winnings to go to the neonatal intensive care unit, where my daughter spent 21 days after being transferred there from St. John’s after birth. I would want it to go to more kangaroo chairs, and cameras for the parents to watch their babies when they’re away, paying for meals and parking for the families who have to stay there long to help take the burden off them.

Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota is celebrating kids who help kids by recognizing June as Youth Philanthropy Month.

12 tips to keep kids safe around dogs

Teach kids to respect your animal’s space. (iStock photo / Getty Images)

Dex Tuttle

Even before the pitter-patter of toddler feet, our house was plenty busy. My wife and I jokingly referred to our dog, Sprocket, and cat, Harvey, as training for parenthood. By the time our daughter, Quinnlyn, came around, we already had learned to keep valuables out of reach and close the doors to the rooms where we didn’t want roaming paws. And we quickly learned the value of eating our meals after distracting the animals to avoid begging eyes.

In addition to providing safety challenges, animals have an uncanny way of creating rules for your house, with or without your approval. Regardless of your expectations of them, they almost always get their way. (Those with toddlers will recognize the similarity here.) In our case, for example, we insisted that Sprocket not be allowed on the furniture — and he most definitely would not be allowed to sleep in our bed. He had different plans, though, and now I’m regularly curled up in the only free corner of our king-sized bed and rarely leave the house without fur-covered pants.

After we introduced the pets to Quinnlyn, Harvey disappeared for what seemed like the better part of a year while Sprocket was quite concerned about losing out on time with us. What remained to be seen was how these interspecies siblings would get along once Quinn became more mobile. We had two animals who thought they owned the house and a new queen who demanded nearly all of our attention. Naturally, there was some ruffled fur.

subscribe_blogOne instance was when Sprocket was lying comfortably on the couch while I was typing away in the recliner near him. Quinn recognized the quiet, relaxing vibe and felt it needed a little chaos. She grabbed her step stool, crawled up on the couch and tried to climb up on Sprocket’s back, hoping to get a free doggie ride. Sprocket alerted me with the warning signs — he first tried to move away then let out a little growl before licking Quinn’s face. Thankfully, I was able to intervene before he got increasingly upset, but his behavior understandably is confusing to Quinn, so she continued to try to climb aboard.

Therein lays the challenge: No matter how well trained, animals are instinctual beings that are territorial, protective and usually inflexible on changing the rules they created. Young children are curious beings who discover their world by poking, prodding, throwing, climbing and chasing. Pairing children and pets can be simultaneously developmentally rewarding and potentially dangerous.

Here are some tips to help keep your kids safe around dogs:

Household pets

  • Dogs typically don’t like hugs and kisses, particularly when it’s not on their own terms. Teach kids to respect your animal’s space.
  • Don’t stare at a dog in close proximity to its face as this can be interpreted as an act of aggression.
  • Dogs that are tied up, cooped in or curled up (sleeping or relaxing) may be more agitated if approached — they either want to get out or be left alone.
  • Know that dogs don’t only attack when they’re angry (growling, barking, hair standing up); they can attack because they’re scared; a dog with its mouth closed, eyes wide and ears forward may indicate that it’s scared or worried.
  • Recognize these behaviors in your family dog to know it’s time to stop playing and give your pet some space:
    • Avoidance: hiding behind something or someone or turning its head away
    • Submission: rolling on its back, licking, or leaving the room; even though the dog is giving up now, it may not some day
    • Body language: tail between legs or low with only the end wagging, ears in a non-neutral position, rapid panting, licking its chops, or shaking out its fur
    • Acting out: tearing up or destroying personal possessions such as toys or other items your family uses frequently, or urinating or defecating in the house; these may be signs that your dog should be seen by a behavioral professional — don’t delay!

Pets outside of your family (tips courtesy of Children’s Hospital of Michigan)

  • Always ask an adult’s permission before approaching or petting a dog. Start by letting the dog sniff you, then gently pet under its chin or on top of its head, but never its tail, back or legs.
  • Never run or scream if a dog comes up to you.
  • Never try to ride a bike away from a dog; they can run faster than you can bike
  • Always be calm around dogs and don’t look them in the eye; they may see this as an act of aggression.
  • Stand still like a tree or rock and let the dog sniff you. If a dog starts biting, put whatever you have (backpack, stick, toy, etc.) in its mouth.
  • Avoid dogs that are eating, playing with toys, tied up in a yard, or behind a fence; also avoid dogs who look ill or angry.
  • Never tease a dog by throwing things at it, barking at it, etc.

Dex Tuttle is the injury prevention program coordinator at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Minnesota House and Senate compromise leads to health care investments

(Photo courtesy of State of Minnesota)

The House and Senate passed — and the governor signed — a bill that most in the health and human services committee probably would give a “B-” grade. (Photo courtesy of State of Minnesota)

Kelly Wolfe

The beginning of every legislative session is a bit like the first day of school. Everyone is excited to see friends they haven’t seen in a while and generally people are optimistic that this year will be even better than the last, and 2015 was no different.

Kelly Wolfe is public policy director at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Kelly Wolfe is public policy director at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

With a $2 billion surplus and no legislators up for re-election, the legislative session was set up to be a successful one. Hopes were high that additional investments in education and health and human services would be made, our roads and bridges would be fixed, and the legislative session would end seamlessly on time.

But just as the new school year feeling is quickly tarnished by a fallout with a friend or a bad grade, the political and philosophical differences that quickly emerged this legislative session put a damper on the optimism. So despite having plenty of money with which to work, dueling priorities over tax cuts, transportation funding, and investments in early childhood education created an improbable solution.

As it relates to Children’s priorities, the massive gulf in approaches to spending on health and human services between the House (a proposed $1 billion cut) and Senate (a $340 million increase) created significant uncertainty for hospitals, nursing homes, mental health providers and many other service agencies. After several weeks of little movement, negotiators agreed to a bill with just one week to go. In keeping with the quirky nature of this year’s legislative session, they crafted a bill that cut $300 million from health and human services but still managed to put significant investments into the health system, including:

  • Payment parity for telemedicine visits, an approach that has tremendous potential for  keeping families closer to home to receive their care
  • An additional $52 million for child protection services that will create a more robust system of accountability to keep children safe
  • Additional medical education funding that will help train more pediatric residents and fellows
  • More than $40 million investment in our mental health system — a long-overdue and much-needed investment for Minnesota children and families
  • Funding for evidence-based home visiting programs that will help children ages 0-2 receive the best possible start in life

subscribe_blogSo, despite the difficulty of reaching a compromise, the House and Senate passed — and the governor signed — a bill that most in the health and human services committee probably would give a “B-” grade; not a bad way to end the year.

For others, though, they’re heading into “summer school” (special session) largely due to the governor’s veto of the education bill. Legislators and the governor will have until July 1 to reach an agreement to avoid a partial state shutdown. The good news is that these are hardworking people who care about our state and have no interest in getting an “F” from the people of Minnesota.

Kelly Wolfe is public policy director at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Mental health is a part of overall well-being

We move through the world as a unique, integrated, whole person. And so do the children for whom we care. (iStock photo)

We move through the world as a unique, integrated, whole person. And so do the children for whom we care. (iStock photo)

Mike Troy, Ph.D, LP

Mike Troy, Ph.D,

Mike Troy, Ph.D,

It’s good that we devote a month — May — to mental health. Through these efforts, the community works to build greater awareness about mental health, break down stigma and lend support and hope to those who deal with mental-health issues in their lives. Yet, I find myself hoping for a time when we don’t have a special month for mental health.

Why would a clinical psychologist who is encouraged by the progress that has been made in mental-health awareness over the course of his long career hope for that? Let me start to answer this way: In which month do we recognize medical health?

Obviously, there is no such month. And the reason is that society doesn’t need to be convinced that our physical health is tied to our overall well-being. We assume that flu will lead to missed time at school or work; we know that cancer will require treatment; and we recognize that continued lack of treatment of high blood pressure could result in a stroke or heart attack. And yet despite equally compelling evidence, we often fail to recognize that emotional and behavioral problems have a direct and profound impact on current and future well-being.

Indeed, our health care systems continue to be organized in ways that imply that we move through the world with separate identities — one physical and one psychological, with divided systems of care. But this division is artificial. In reality, we move through the world as a unique, integrated, whole person. And so do the children for whom we care.

While we have much more work to do, at Children’s we recognize that mental health care is health care. This understanding is being validated by a growing body of research that speaks to the powerful interaction of biological, psychological and social factors on the developing brain, gene expression and overall health. We know, for example, that significant and sustained adversity early in life contributes to a wide range of behavioral, learning and health problems throughout development. And there’s an abundance of scientific evidence linking behavioral disorders of childhood to poor physical health throughout the lifespan. Consequently, monitoring risk and responding with appropriate evaluation and treatment for emotional, behavioral and developmental problems is as important as it is for medical problems.

subscribe_blogThis is why we’re grateful that more than 4,000 families during the past year have turned to Children’s for help when confronted with the challenge of understanding and treating mental-health problems such as anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder and ADHD. Additionally, Children’s supports our mental-health professionals as they work to bridge psychological and physical health while working as members of clinical teams ranging from the feeding clinic to the hematology/oncology clinic.

While society still has a long way to go, I am hopeful that increasingly we are viewing and valuing mental health in a more enlightened way. Seldom am I met with skepticism when I speak to a medical audience about the impact of mental health on overall health. The pediatric health care industry is investing in more intensive and robust screening methods to identify potential issues earlier, as well as advancing models for delivering care that integrate mental- and behavioral-health services into medical settings.

I embrace this momentum, while also recognizing that much more work needs to be done before we no longer need a single month devoted to mental health. What will that look like? Children who struggle, for example, with depression will be treated with the same understanding, compassion, and support as those with cancer. Health care systems and insurers will view physical- and mental-health services as equal contributors to the developmental well-being of all of our community’s youth. And families will be able to access mental-health services as readily as any other essential health care services.

In the meantime, I join with others in recognizing this month as an opportunity to shine a light on mental health and a way of letting the children and families we see every day know that they have our support.

Mike Troy, Ph.D, LP, is the medical director of Behavioral Health Services at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.

Kangaroo Care a tranquil experience for parent, child

Newborn Azarias has skin-to-skin contact with his mother, Veronica Engel, as part of a Kangaroo Care exercise. May 15 is International Kangaroo Care Day.

This month, the Neonatal units in St. Paul and Minneapolis are celebrating the importance of Kangaroo Care, a technique where an infant is held skin to skin with mom or dad. Kangaroo Care promotes bonding, provides comfort for the baby and parent and has potential to improve a baby’s medical condition. In honor of International Kangaroo Care Awareness Day, May 15, a mother shares her experience holding her newborn son skin to skin.

Veronica Engel of Chippewa Falls, Wis., holds newborn son Azarias skin to skin as part of Kangaroo Care.

Veronica Engel

My husband and I found out at my 10-week ultrasound that we were having a baby boy, but we also found out that our son, Azarias, had a birth defect called gastroschisis.

Due to his condition, doctors informed me that I wouldn’t be able to hold Azarias until after his surgery. This had me worried because I was afraid of missing out on that special bonding time that you immediately have with your newborn. When he was born, I was able to put him on my chest momentarily but then he had to be rushed off in an isolette to be prepared for his stay at the hospital until the doctors could perform the surgery he needed.  He was staying in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Children’s – St. Paul, which has private rooms. I am grateful for this because it allowed me to stay in the room with him around the clock.

subscribe_blogI wasn’t able to hold him for the first week of his life due to his condition; however, I was able to hold his hands and feet or rub his head. After his surgery, I was able to hold him the next day. This was special because I got to hold him skin to skin; I held him for three hours straight. It was relaxing and soothing for both of us to be able to have this closeness, which we weren’t able to do at the beginning of his life. I continued to stay with Azarias in the NICU, and each day I would hold him once or twice using skin-to-skin – anywhere from an hour to three hours at a time.

The doctors told me that he was doing excellent for his condition. Not only was he gaining weight at a good pace, but he also was moving along quickly for what he was able to consume and digest.

When I’m holding Azarias skin to skin, I don’t even notice the time fly by; it’s such a relief to be able to help calm and comfort him just by this simple action. Kangaroo Care truly is a tranquil experience for parent and child and has helped us build a lasting bond with each other. I believe that being here and holding him skin to skin has made a difference in Azarias’ ability to recover and heal from this whole ordeal.