Beyond the walls

Published On 10/18/2016

Building a foundation for children and families in our community

When she became pregnant, Terri didn’t know much about being a mom. Jennifer worried every day as students crossed the street to school. Bernice needed to work, but didn’t know who could care for her daughter with special needs. When these parents and thousands of others needed help, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital was there.

Families in our community face barriers to raising their children. Nearly half of all children in Memphis and its surrounding area live below the poverty line. Tennessee has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Asthma is the No. 1 reason children end up in the hospital. Where people live, work, go to school and play can have a crippling impact on their health. Poverty and illness and injury threaten the health and well-being of our entire community.

For nearly 40 years, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital has gone outside the walls of the hospital to address barriers that hold children back from thriving. So much of what the hospital sees is preventable, according to President and CEO Meri Armour.

In our community

Terri Hines says she had to grow up a lot after having a baby. The young mother didn’t know much about being a mom, but her confidence grew each time she talked with Le Bonheur Nurse Beth Pletz. For two years, Beth made regular visits to Terri’s home. It was there, in those visits with Beth, that Terri learned to be a better mom. Beth taught Terri how to breastfeed her son, Denterrius, what to expect with each stage of development and ways to balance work and motherhood. “Beth helped me change my life to take care of someone else,” Terri said.

The early years of a child’s life are critical to brain development. The social, emotional and cognitive skills built during this time determine a child’s foundation for future growth. Nurse visitation programs make investments in children and mothers, like Denterrius and Terri Hines, that will reap long-term benefits for families, businesses and communities.

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Bernice Harris put a lot of things on hold, including her job, when daughter Charlize was born. A feeding tube and specialized care for Charlize’s congenital heart defect made it difficult to find childcare. When Bernice needed to go back to work to support her family, Le Bonheur doctors, nurses, therapists and childcare experts helped develop a plan for Charlize. A Le Bonheur educator worked alongside the childcare center staff to ensure Charlize’s medical and educational needs were met. Today, Charlize, 5, is thriving, and Bernice can support her two children.

Sometimes families need professional support to reach their fullest potential. We come alongside families, like Bernice and Charlize Harris, to help remove barriers to success. Investments in today’s families will reap dividends tomorrow – socially and economically.

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Parent Teacher Organization President Jennifer Shiberou hoped students would arrive safely to her children’s school – Treadwell Elementary. In 2014, the area around Treadwell had one of the highest rates of pedestrian injuries in Memphis. Le Bonheur Safety Expert Susan Helms rallied the community – engineers, urban planners, parents, school leaders and FedEx leaders to add new flashing signs to alert drivers to pedestrians, make crosswalks safe and reroute car lanes. Today, the City of Memphis is using new guidelines for school zones thanks to the work at Treadwell.

No matter where they live, kids deserve to be free from harm. We partner with local organizations, schools, law enforcement, universities and government to create a safer place for children to grow and thrive. The area around Treadwell Elementary School is now safer for Jennifer Shiberou to walk her sons Addis and Samuel to school.

“We want to be a hospital that changes the way children live in our community,” Armour said. “I really want this to be a place that makes a difference in Memphis. To do that, we must be actively present in our community.”

Today, Le Bonheur sends 175 health workers, therapists, educators and more out into the community. They’re joined by pediatricians, pediatric subspecialists and nurses who see patients in Le Bonheur clinics throughout West Tennessee, North Mississippi and Eastern Arkansas.

Community-based staff partner with pediatric experts in 45 medical specialties, ensuring that the medical needs of childhood are covered. Le Bonheur community programs touch every stage of childhood from infancy to teenage years and are focused on helping families establish strong foundations for their children’s health, safety and well-being.

“Our primary job is to deal with children’s health care, but there are a lot of barriers in our kids’ families, homes and environments that make it hard to do. You can’t deliver medical care when a family is in chaos,” said Jon McCullers, MD, Le Bonheur pediatrician-in- chief.

Last year, nearly 90,000 children and families received services through one of Le Bonheur’s 20 community-based programs. When combined with patients served in the hospital and in community clinics, no other organization in the region serves more children than Le Bonheur Children’s. Parents look to Le Bonheur for guidance to raise their children because of the hospital’s expertise in every aspect of childhood development.  And, for the last six decades Le Bonheur has advocated on behalf of all children.

Armour views the work Le Bonheur does beyond the walls of the hospital just as important as what happens inside.

 “I like to think of the walls of our hospital being very fluid. On any given day, we’re caring for about 200 children inside the building. But there are more than 300,000 children in our region who need help. All children matter, and it’s our obligation to help them,” she said.

And it’s not a fight Le Bonheur approaches alone. The hospital intentionally works with many community non-profits, school systems, local governments and foundations to implement proven programs.

“In order for children to grow up healthy and strong, they need the advantage of great families, great infrastructure, great schools and a great health care system so they can develop to be the best person they can be,” said Armour. “Together we are protecting the future for children.”

Give a strong foundation

The call for help from our community’s children as never been so great. Memphis ranks last in the nation for the most unhealthy housing. Each year, 12,000 children from our community end up in the emergency room because of a preventable problem. Nationally, this region is home to one of the worst areas for asthma.

These challenges feel daunting says Armour, but children’s hospitals have tackled far greater challenges.

“Pediatric hospitals solved the polio epidemic, and today we can cure children with certain forms of cancer. Those were overwhelming odds when they were taken on as challenges. Today is no different. Changing and influencing our community is important. It’s not something we can walk away from.”

Solving the challenges for children today requires one more person: you.

Your support helps us help more kids. A child can receive important medical screenings in a mobile doctor’s office at their school. A young mother can learn how to take care of her baby. A family can learn how to manage asthma and not end up in the hospital. A child can grow and thrive. You can help build a strong foundation for children… families… our community.