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The Children's Home Handles 'Medically Fragile' Children
By Lois Thomson

"Medically fragile" is a term that's used often when describing the young patients to whom The Pediatric Specialty Hospital of The Children's Home of Pittsburgh and Lemieux Family Center provides services.  The Pediatric Specialty Hospital is one arm of The Children's Home of Pittsburgh (the other two being Adoption and Child's Way), and Jennifer March, Director of External Affairs, explained just what is done.

"We care for medically fragile children and infants, newborns, who are transitioning between the big hospital to home," she said.  "They are not quite ready to go home, but they don't need to be in a large hospital any more."  She said "medically fragile" can be a range of acute medical situations – a premature infant, a baby born with a congenital heart who requires surgery and needs to recover, or a baby born addicted to opioids who needs time to be weaned from the drugs.  "Our doctors specialize in cardiology, endocrinology, pulmonology – so we can care for a variety of medical needs."

More than just treating the patients, The Children's Home provides education for parents and family members on how to care for the children when they go home.  March said the average length of stay is three weeks, which allows nurses and social workers to work with the families.  "By the time they are ready to leave, everybody is comfortable with the routine of how to care for the child.  It gives patients time to grow and heal, and teaches parents how to dose medicine or use the medical equipment."

When a patient stays at The Children's Home and Lemieux Family Center, parents and family can stay on-site at the Lemieux Family Center. Jennifer March, Director of External Affairs, said, "We've got full-size kitchens, living rooms, hotel-like bedrooms. So as the child continues to heal, the goal is for them to live like a family. We love it when they bring siblings here, we want them to get used to living like a family with this medically fragile child before they go home."

Even more of a benefit is the atmosphere of the facility.  March said, "The families come to us from the hospital, and we often hear them say, 'When I first walked in, I couldn't believe how relaxed it was.  This was the first time our family actually got to be together, to hold our baby.'  We really try to offer a home-like environment for the comfort of everybody."

Opened in 1984, the Pediatric Specialty Hospital was founded by Dr. Ronald David.  March said what he was seeing in the community was medically fragile babies being discharged from the hospital and their parents bringing them right back into the emergency room, either from fear or from not understanding how to interpret the monitor they were sent home with.  "All of the equipment we have here is what you take home with you.  So you're going to be an expert in it before you get discharged."

The Pediatric Specialty Hospital is the only one of its kind in Pennsylvania, and March said it can serve up to 450 families a year.  In addition, "We are a nonprofit organization, and our funding supports these families.  We don't send anybody home with a bill, they've been through enough."

For more information, call 412-441-4884 or visit www.childrenshomepgh.org

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