BY ARIEL HERNANDEZ
There was a time when severely ill children did not have a safe haven or place where they could not only receive treatment, but also have an opportunity to socialize and experience a normal childhood. It was a time during which parents, many of whom were ill prepared to care for a needy child, were left with few options when it came to seeking treatment for their children at a manageable cost.
In 1870, the Sisters of the Community of St. Mary decided to provide such a place and established a 15-bed facility in Manhattan that provided free care for sick and needy children. It was the first private medical institution in New York of its kind.
In 1951, St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children’s flagship facility relocated to a nine-acre campus in Bayside, where today it operates a 97-bed inpatient program as well as a variety of outpatient services. Since moving to Queens, the organization has grown significantly.
Due to its dedication to the community, the hospital saw an increase in donations and funding over the years. As a result, St. Mary’s was able to add a family-centered home care program in 1984 that cares for children with the highest levels of medical complexity.
During the 147 years since its inception, St. Mary’s has re-evaluated its focus and services to meet the needs of new generations of children and their families as a multi-denominational organization.
According to Dr. Edwin Simpser, the president and CEO of St. Mary’s, the hospital aimed to keep its commitment to the Sisters of St. Mary by helping children with complex medical conditions grow into happy, healthier and stronger adults.
“It’s important to note that St. Mary’s was formed by the Sisters of St. Mary and this is their mission,” Simpser told the Queens Tribune. “This is their legacy, and though they are no longer actively involved, this is the organization they built. We’re very proud to carry on that legacy and move their vision forward.”
In 2012, St. Mary’s Hospital for Children underwent a major modernization and expansion project, opening its state-of-the-art Children’s Pavilion. The new pavilion provides a total-healing environment for children and their families, including housing for patients’ families, treatment rooms and the Dr. Burton Grebin Rehabilitation Center.
Following the opening of the pavilion, the previous building was reconstructed into an Education and Family Pavilion that houses PS 23Q—an on-site public school for inpatients—and Queens Borough President Helen Marshall Early Education Center, a preschool for children with medically complex illnesses and injuries.
Simpser, who has worked for St. Mary’s since 1999, said that the center has been evolving with the changing nature of pediatric healthcare.
“We’re a long-term–care facility that prides ourselves on taking care of children,” said Simpser.
Between 2000 and 2013, St. Mary’s launched its Home Care for Kids, a program that allows children to rehabilitate while surrounded by family and loved ones in a familiar environment. The Care at Home program was pioneered at St. Mary’s and serves as a model for other programs in the state. Unlike other rehabilitation facilities, St. Mary’s takes comprehensive approaches to case management, such as evaluating and assisting with a child’s therapeutic, medical, education and psychosocial needs.
St. Mary’s works with medical equipment and home care personnel, assessing resources to provide appropriate care in the home setting. The hospital also provides home adaptation and vehicle modification to improve safety for the children while they are at home and access from home to the community. All parents whose children utilize these resources are given proper training in dealing with the necessary equipment and care techniques.
“It’s an evolution over time,” said Simpser. “Being able to get these kids out of the hospital and making it an easy transition back to their home is important.”
Therefore, Simpser said, it is important that St. Mary’s focus on the culture of the family, rather than that of a hospital. Otherwise, he said, some children might be stuck in the hospital longer than necessary.
“We provide the right care, in the right place, at the right time,” said Simpser.
Between 2000 and 2013, St. Mary’s also established its research institute and the Cindy & Tod Johnson Center for Pediatric Feeding Disorders at its facility. The center was the first intensive day-patient program in New York that specializes in the evaluation and treatment of pediatric feeding and swallowing disorders. Some of the eating difficulties with which the program assists are mealtime tantrums, food refusal, nutritional deficiencies, failure to thrive, dependence on liquids, poor chewing, and poor sucking and swallowing.
Simpser said that his goal is to make sure that St. Mary’s continues to evolve and grow in all aspects.
“As the number of medically complex children is growing, we have to be responsive to that growth,” said Simpser.
As medical technology continues to evolve, Simpser said that donations to St. Mary’s will enable the hospital to focus on providing more care at home and utilizing new equipment and technology that is required for the needs of specific patients.
“Not only is the change in technology important, but so is the evolution of medicine and it’s allowing us to get even sicker kids home faster,” said Simpser.
In regard to medicine and technology, Simpser said that St. Mary’s plans to expand most in its home care division. Currently, St. Mary’s provides services for infants and youths. However, Simpser said that as the hospital’s patients get older and become adults, they continue to need care.
“St. Mary’s was built on taking care of kids that no one has taken care of, and we’re still doing that today,” said Simpser.
St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children provides a number of services, including rehabilitation, nursing, neurological rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury (TBI), respiratory therapy, education, medical day care and camps, healing arts and therapeutic recreation, palliative care, patient navigation, complementary care, respite care, spiritual care and car seat inspections.
St. Mary’s opened its doors in 1870 as the first-ever medical institution for children in New York City and, today, retains its title as the city’s only post-acute hospital for children who require long-term rehabilitation.
Reach reporter Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.