After almost two years of planning, on April 28, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland announced that its Center for Community Health and Engagement had been born. What they call “The Center” will function within Children’s Hospital to coordinate programs focusing on preventive healthcare for children and their families. “The hospital has a huge community benefit portfolio,” said Dr. Barbara Staggers, chief of adolescent medicine at the hospital and executive director at the new center.
“Since the Center is just getting off the ground, it’s hard to list the programs it will encompass,” Melinda Krigel, a Children’s Hospital’s spokesperson, wrote in an email. Still, she listed some examples of the activities and work the center is going to be coordinating. One of them already took place on April 29, when the center sponsored a screening of the PBS documentary Raising of America, followed by a panel discussion with three teenagers who were shooting victims in Oakland, and who have experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). An expert in informed trauma care was also part of the panel, where “the dialogue centered on the need for understanding that children living in violence experience symptoms that are similar to those of war veterans,” wrote Krigel. The event was hosted in collaboration with other community-focused groups: First 5 Alameda, a public entity that supports health prevention in children; Youth Uprising, a multi-service community transformation hub for young people; and the Alameda Department of Public Health.
“Talking is Teaching” is another kind of program the new center will coordinate. Children’s Hospital partners with the Clinton Foundation and the nonprofit Next Generation to help “close the word gap,” said Krigel. The goal is to increase early literacy for low income and non-English speaking families. During well-child visits to the hospital’s primary care clinics, doctors will talk to some patients and families about the program and will provide toolkits to help encourage more “talking, reading and singing,” said Krigel. “On subsequent check-ins, doctors will check in about how the family is doing with these interactions with their child.”
School-based health centers are another kind of existing program that the new center will help coordinate. These are run by the hospital in collaboration with the Oakland Unified School District and the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency. Together, they operate two clinics, one in East Oakland—The Youth Uprising/Castlemont Health Clinic—and another one in West Oakland, the Chappell Hayes Health Center. These provide “a safe and convenient place for students to receive integrated, comprehensive medical and mental health services,” according to the hospital’s most recent Community Benefits Report. A team of therapists and psychiatrists work with students and other community members between the ages of 11 and 24, attending to different aspects of the adolescent’s life. Immunizations, nutrition counseling and reproductive healthcare are some of the services provided at these centers.
In addition to coordinating those types of programs, the center’s staff are already in conversation with several community partners, such as universities and community-based organizations, in order to address different issues together. Staggers added that you can’t provide healthcare without looking at factors such as poverty or education systems, all of which affect children’s healthcare, but which kids and their families don’t have control over. “It’s more than coming to the doctor to get your cold fixed; it’s where you live, what you have access to,” said Staggers.
The center receives private donations and it will have an internal and external advisory committee, which is still in the formation process. The center will be lead by professionals from different areas of expertise: adolescent medicine, early intervention services (which includes child development, mental health, and parent-infant programs), graduate medical education, pediatric primary care, grant development, government relations, and research.
“Children’s healthcare is all about prevention,” said Staggers, who believes the medical model is shifting from emergency and chronic care to preventative care. That’s why, she said, the timing for opening the center “is right.”
“I think this is a very exciting time in healthcare because the preventive focus forces healthcare providers to look outside of the traditional medical model and partner with communities,” said Staggers. She added that the new Center for Community Health and Engagement will help showcase the hospital’s existing programs and help the staff think of strategies to realize “what we are doing, what could we be doing differently; how can we do it better.”