A Special Approach To Care

Most 10-year-olds are too active to spend much time looking back. and so it is with Westchester Medical Center’s Maria Fareri Children’s Hospi- tal, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year. But as this milestone is observed, it’s worth remembering that from the outset, this hospital has been a special place.

even before ground was broken in 1998, its planning committee envisioned something then rare: a facility for treating sick and injured children where the environment itself would aid healing, and where the experience of families—not just individual patients—would be made as positive as possible.

“our concept that patients’ families would be integrated into the treatment team was visionary at the time, but has become the standard of pediatric care throughout the U.s.,” says Michael Gewitz, M.d., Physician-in-Chief. “We sought to create private spaces where individual families and their children would have their own room for solitude, away from the pressures of care. and where the kids could have a little fun and forget where they were. after all, when a child is seriously ill or injured, the whole family is affected and needs support.”

the hospital was named for 13-year-old Maria Fareri, who in 1995 died tragically from rabies. Her parents, Brenda and John Fareri, wanted to honor her memory by helping to fulfill a wish she had expressed for “the health and well-being of all the children in the world.” they channeled their grief into spearheading the creation of a children’s hospital that would be truly child-friendly.

“My nursing background had shown me that parents know their children better than anyone else, and that knowledge became a thread throughout everything we planned,” recalls Brenda Fareri, who serves as chair of the hospital’s foundation and takes part in fundraising activities, including the Go the distance Walk and Family Fun day and the 100.7 WHUd Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals radiothon. “Building the hospital wasn’t easy—nothing worthwhile ever is—but we pressed on because no one can refuse to help sick children.”

Features that help make Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital a special place
In its first decade, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital has established itself as the Children’s Hospital in the Hudson Valley and Fairfield County and has treated more than 150,000 critically ill young people. Among the services that draw families there are:
>>lifesaving open heart surgery, organ transplants, advanced chemo- therapy, emergency trauma surgery
>>the region’s only pediatric intensive care unit, level 4 neonatal intensive care unit and organ and stem cell/ bone marrow transplantation programs
>>private inpatient rooms with bath- rooms, showers and parent sleeping areas clustered within themed “neighborhoods”
>>preschool and school-age play- rooms, as well as a room with video games and Web access
>>board-certified child life and creative arts therapists who help children adjust to hospitalization
>>a Family Resource Center, where families can use the Internet, do medical research, read, chat or relax
>>just steps away, the Ronald McDonald House of the Greater Hudson Valley, which provides a place to stay for the families of critically ill or injured children who live far from the hospital.

With Maria’s spirit guiding them, the Fareris, owners of the real estate devel- opment corporation Fareri associates of Greenwich, Conn., helped marshal support from 20,000 people in the community.

the hospital’s planners drew on “evidence-based design,” which uses research in psychology, architecture, neuroscience, behavioral economics and the environment to plan, design and construct buildings. their aim was to create a “healing environment” that would be nurturing and therapeutic, reduce stress for patients and families and lead to physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

though today’s vision of a healing environment is new, its roots go back a long way. In 1860, Florence Nightingale emphasized the importance of fresh air, quiet, proper lighting, warmth and clean water in helping patients recover. over the past two decades, the concept’s modern incarnation has been given new impetus by research. study findings show that patients have better medical outcomes if they are treated in places that eliminate unnecessary noise, glare, lack of privacy and poor air quality and instead offer calming lighting levels, windows to view the outdoors, social support and places for families to sleep. Patients—especially children—are more likely to be satisfied and comfortable with their stays if they are exposed to positive distractions such as art work, music, humor and peaceful surroundings that are “non–hospital-like.

But the planning committee didn’t limit itself to published research. It also asked the families of pediatric patients at Westchester Medical Center to walk the halls with cameras and notepads, recording their ideas for how the new facility’s design could be more effectively patient- and family-friendly.

The results were impressive. With its lobby’s large dollhouse, New York Baseball Museum, performing arts stage and walk-through aquarium, the hospital is full of fascinating diversions. But even more unusual when it opened in 2004 were its “neighborhoods.” These are themed clusters of single-patient rooms with private bathrooms, showers, shelving units for personalization and a sleeping area for a parent or caregiver. Each cluster of rooms surrounds a nurse’s station.

Patients can express themselves through music, art and movement therapies in neighborhood studios and lounges.

Each neighborhood’s family lounge offers a place for privacy, support or family togetherness. The Family Resource Center just off the hospital’s lobby is a welcoming hub where families can access the Internet for information or personal business, find books and games, charge their cell phones or take part in support group meetings.

Over the years, the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital Foundation drew upon the resources of its supporters to add features to the hospital. For example, a generous family of donors introduced professional artwork to the walls of the hospital, and former National Hockey

League Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine got his Companions in Courage Foundation to install interactive gaming systems in a special room to allow the children and their visitors to play video games.

Dr. Gewitz notes that evidence supports not only the benefits of a healing setting, but also those of family involvement, what he calls “an environment of participation” involving parents and other caregivers in a youngster’s care. Research conducted at the hospital by a postdoctoral candidate from the Netherlands, Fiona DeVos, for her Ph.D. thesis suggested that children treated here had a decreased length of stay and improved compliance with treatments— doing things like taking their medications— which showed up in reduced recidivism.

The favorable impact of the environment has been added to lately by the develop- ment of “family-centered rounds,” notes Dr. Gewitz. These daily rounds feature the presentation of the child’s condition and updated treatment plan by a medical resident or student to the attending physician, other residents, students, fellows (advanced postresidency trainees), nursing students, social workers and discharge planners and, importantly, family members as well.

Brenda Fareri thinks her daughter would be proud of what her namesake hospital has accomplished in its first 10 years. “Maria would say it’s all very cool,” she says with a laugh. ★

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