“We’ll offer both immediate and long-term help,” said Jean Wilkinson, Ph.D., director of human services at MEHC. “Our goal is to provide those affected by violence with culturally sensitive emotional support in a pragmatic manner and deal with the demands that arise when violence occurs. We hope to draw from the experience of individuals who have been personally affected by violence.”
The program has had lots of help getting off the ground, including from long-time community activist Mildred Hailey, executive director of the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation, and Bob Francis, co-chair of the Academy/Bromley/Egleston Safety Task Force and retired chief of the Boston Municipal Police. The two have met with MEHC administrators every week for the past year.
“We always try to design our services around what the community identifies as a need,” said executive director Cote. “Mrs. Hailey and Bob Francis identified the lack of a coordinated effort on the grassroots level to support residents in a prompt and proactive manner. One organization can’t do that alone; it requires a collaborative effort involving the stakeholders in the community.”
The program is part of a larger anti-violence strategy that Children’s aims to launch in response to the violence in Boston neighborhoods. The hospital’s Office of Child Advocacy, Department of Psychiatry, Emergency Department and other divisions are working together to fund and implement a plan that includes patient screenings, parent support groups, referral services and youth groups for adolescents affected by violence.
“Through this initiative, we envision children who are exhibiting signs of stress to be identified early by a teacher, health care provider or parent and get them help,” said Wilkinson.
Another increasingly troubling problem among children is obesity, a condition so widespread that more than 40 percent of Boston Public Schools students are now either clinically obese or borderline overweight.
Working to curb the crisis, clinicians at MEHC and other health centers are educating families about how to make healthful choices and trying to remove the barriers that keep them from addressing their weight issues.
Three years ago, Children’s Hospital Boston’s Office of Child Advocacy launched a program called Fitness in the City (FIC) to help these centers prevent and treat pediatric obesity. Children’s support has ensured that nutritionists are available to counsel health center patients and made free memberships available to local YMCAs, Body by Brandy 4 Kidz Gym in Roxbury and GoKids Boston at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. But more importantly, it has set up a system for the health centers to pool their knowledge and resources, share outcomes and talk about which approaches they’ve found successful.
Eleven Boston community health centers now participate in FIC, including MEHC, where the program emphasizes empowerment.
“This community can feel disempowered, which is a common issue with people who are poor and often overwhelmed,” said Shari Nethersole, M.D., a pediatrician at Children’s.
Through the I’m iN Charge (INC) program, patients learn how to take control of what they eat and listen to their body, eating when they’re hungry and stopping when full. INC’s registered dietician, Laura Sprauer, R.D., I.B.C.L.C., has found this approach useful.
“Individuals can implement dietary and lifestyle changes if they are educated, motivated, supported and empowered,” she said.
To provide the local community increased access to quality health care, MEHC recently expanded its hours and hired three doctors. The center will now open earlier in the day and close later in the evening, as well as being open certain Saturdays each month. For more information, visit www.childrenshospital.org/mehc.
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