New rooms enhance the care of very ill children

At the Virginia Commonwealth University Children’s Medical Center, providing pediatric palliative care is a full-time mission.

This past June, a new pediatric palliative care patient room and waiting room were unveiled. The pediatric palliative care room is like no other room on the pediatric floor. Its homelike decor meets families’ emotional and spiritual needs while facilitating excellent medical care and making the children feel at ease with their potentially life-limiting conditions.

The patient room, known as the “comfort room,” was renovated with funds from Ronald McDonald House Charities of Richmond. The MCV Auxiliary and the Brett Jones Foundation provided funding for the renovation of the family waiting area, known as the Arnold Salzberg Family Waiting Room. The room was named after Salzberg to recognize his service as a pediatric surgeon and division chair for pediatric surgery.

“With the ever-increasing technological advances in health care, there is much focus on preservation of life. The question is, at what cost?” said Deborah Fisher, clinical director of pediatric palliative care at VCU Children’s.

The rooms’ pleasant colors, soft lighting and gentle atmosphere are designed to enhance family-centered care. The comfort room is home to a calming mural portraying a family of deer, a shimmering waterfall and a pink sky. Photographs in the waiting room continue the pediatric inpatient unit’s existing theme of “animals around the world” with crisp, up-close shots of wildlife.

Such private spaces will allow tender moments to go undisturbed, a goal Fisher said VCU Children’s Medical Center constantly strives to provide for families. With the larger comfort room, family members can easily fit by the bedside without overwhelming the child. The waiting room provides a place for families to go when they need to escape the daily stressors of caring for an ill child.

“Parents may just need a break to get away, quietly reflect or let their guard down. The waiting room is close to the palliative care room,” Fisher said.

At the celebration, Dr. Sheldon Retchin, chief executive officer of VCU Health System and vice president for Health Sciences, said the commitment to care should not be based on statistics alone. Although more adults die from illnesses than children, he said, more importance should not be placed on adult care. Each year, more than 50,000 children die while the number of adults who die from illnesses annually — 2.5 million — is considerably higher. Retchin expressed admiration that the VCU Medical Center dedicates so many resources to providing top-notch pediatric palliative care, in spite of these statistics.

“Kids don’t understand what’s rare and what’s not,” Retchin said. “I’m really proud of a medical center that recognizes this need for taking care of kids who are, after all, our most vulnerable population, the neediest and the most innocent.”

As Lauren Goodloe, Ph.D., director of medical and pediatric nursing at VCU Health System, noted at the June celebration, even free-standing children’s hospitals often don’t have a program devoted solely to palliative care. With the help of several generous gifts, Goodloe said, VCU Children’s has taken steps toward providing some of the best pediatric care in the region.

“We take care of these children every day and have for years. It’s nothing new that we’re taking care of them,” Goodloe said, “now we just have some of the facilities that we need and a lot of the expertise to make this a world-renowned program.”

Coupled with VCU Children’s dedication to excellent pediatric palliative care, these rooms quickly made an impact; just weeks after they opened, she said, families were already noticing the difference.

As a free-standing children’s hospital is planned for completion in 2012, Fisher said she hopes an expansion of pediatric palliative care is in the cards. Fisher hopes the facility, which will be built on the block bounded by 10th, 11th, Marshall and Broad streets, will have additional rooms dedicated to pediatric palliative care.

For more information about donating to the VCU Children’s Medical Center, contact Jennifer A. O’Rourke, director of development, at (804) 828-4326.