By Traci Donnelly
Chief Executive Officer
Last Wednesday, pediatric residents of the prestigious Cohen Children’s Medical Center, Northwell Health came to The Child Center’s Corona Head Start location to provide primary medical services, including physical examinations; medical histories; height and weight measurements; vision, hearing, and nutritional screenings; and parental guidance to low-income families. Through our partnership with Northwell, residents will provide this service to our clients once a month for a year at our Corona and Flushing locations, for clients across our programs. This service is absolutely free.
Wednesday’s visit marked the first time The Child Center provided primary care on site as one of our services. Since its founding in 1953, The Child Center has been committed to the mental health of children, providing therapy from the start, and an array of other services, such as internships, early childhood education, and child abuse prevention, as the decades wore on. That’s because we understand that for children to thrive, we need to care for them holistically: A physically healthy young adult with an unaddressed mental illness will not be able to reach her full potential; nor will an emotionally healthy child with serious, undiagnosed physical health problems.
Providing this missing piece of the puzzle — physical health services — on site is a big deal. The children we serve are most often from families living below the poverty line, many of them immigrants, and too many of them with exposure to trauma. They live in underserved communities with poor access to high-quality health care. Some of them have health insurance in the form of Medicaid, but for a variety of reasons, doctors are increasingly unwilling to accept this insurance. The majority of parents balance multiple low-paying jobs and multiple children; requesting time off, buying MetroCards, and traveling to an unfamiliar neighborhood for routine doctor visits is just too much.
Offering care at The Child Center clears many, if not all, of these hurdles. Families know and trust us; our programs are located right in the communities we serve, with staff who speak 22 languages collectively. By offering primary care here, in a place that is comfortable and familiar to our clients, everyone wins. Our children get preventative care and screening so that families can be aware of any issues and take care of them early on. Since we will be providing this service monthly, families will get in the habit of regular assessments, check-ups, and preventative care — things that most of us take for granted. And our society benefits when problems are caught early and don’t turn into costly hospital visits.
This was the theory, and I can’t tell you how heartening it was on Wednesday for it all to come to together. Dr. Omolara Uwemedimo, Northwell’s Director of GLOhBAL (Global Learning. Optimizing Health. Building Alliances Locally) at Cohen Children’s Medical Center saw eight children and immediately clicked with the families, according to Corona Head Start/EarlyLearn Director Lillian Rodriguez-Magliaro: “The partnership with Northwell has been one of great benefit to the children and families in the Corona community. Dr. Uwemedimo is wonderful with the children and families, and parents appreciated how she took the time with their questions. Usually their health care experience is one of rapid care, providing very little opportunity for questions and relationship building. Now imagine that you are a three- or four-year-old and a doctor engages with you in play. This opportunity has changed their perception. They now see a doctor through the lens of care, compassion, and communication. As one of the children stated, ‘They are nice and fun.’”
Parents themselves echoed the sentiment: “I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss my daughter’s health concerns with a doctor who is really listening and provides thorough feedback,” said one mom whose daughter, Allie, was seen by Dr. Uwemedimo. “We are very fortunate to have this benefit.”
In addition to providing thorough well visits, residents also worked with children in their classrooms and facilitated an asthma workshop, which was attended by 29 participants — showing a serious demand for these kinds of services. The classroom visit and workshop were part of our initiative, already underway, to provide nonmedical services — such as parent question-and-answer sessions and workshops for the education of our workforce — in addition to individual medical visits. These services will be provided in two-week rotations by Northwell residents for a year.
I am deeply grateful to the men and women of Northwell Health for their partnership and concern for the well-being of all children. We are especially indebted to Stephen Barone, M.D., who serves as program director of Cohen Children’s Medical Center at Northwell; pediatrician Allison Driansky, M.D.; and Dr. Uwemedimo. It was clear from my first meeting with Dr. Uwemedimo that these folks not only understood and cared about the challenges of (and need for) serving the underserved, but also had the chops to do something about it. Dr. Uwemedimo spoke at length during that meeting about social determinants of health — the socioeconomic and other factors that affect a wide range of health risks and outcomes — and how they were not insurmountable, but rather obstacles that could be overcome. With Northwell on board, and if last week’s visit is any indication, I am confident that she is exactly right.
“Rotating through The Child Center of NY has been an amazing experience for our pediatric residents,” said Dr. Driansky. “By being able to interact with children and their families outside of a traditional medical setting, residents are able to appreciate the health opportunities that exist in families, neighborhoods, and communities. Together, Northwell and The Child Center of NY are training our future physicians to be advocates and true community partners.”
This partnership stands as a testament to true collaboration in the social impact sector, and I hope that it marks the beginning of many more collaborations. In the future, we look forward to providing services that wrap around the whole family; group education; and the Flushing Clinic’s School Outreach Program, through which Northwell residents will deliver curricula to adolescents on relevant health topics, such as nutrition, safety, sexual health, mental health, and bullying. The focus will remain on preventative, family wellness and the integration of services, with physical and behavioral health in one comfortable, familiar, and local setting. Our clients deserve no less.
Following the visit, Dr. Uwemedino summed it up best: “Working at the Corona Head Start has allowed for the provision of direct care in a trusted environment and, simultaneously, the teaching of future pediatricians to provide care in an empathetic, culturally sensitive manner. We are all motivated to strengthen this service as we move into the future. Our first session was nothing short of amazing — the feeling to truly meet parents where they’re at and give them time to speak honestly and openly about their most precious belongings — their children. Without words, this clinic allows us as physicians to say, ‘I see you, I hear you, and I am there for you.’”
This initiative was also a collaboration on the organizational level, as so many people here at The Child Center dedicated their considerable talents and energy (and scant time and resources) to taking the idea from the what-if realm to reality. They include our Chief Operating Officer Jaime Angarita; Vice President of Health Homes and Integrated Care, Robert Cizma; Vice President of Early Childhood and Prevention, Linda Rodriguez; Corona Head Start/EarlyLearn Director Lillian Rodriguez-Magliaro; and Human Resources Assistant Nayeli Daza-Romo.
Perhaps most important, it is a collaboration with our families. A core belief of The Child Center of NY is that the vast majority of parents will do right by their children, given the right support. Wednesday’s visit — and nearly every day at The Child Center — proves that our faith is well-founded.