July 25, 2019 — Today’s travels brought me to Communityville, the “city” that is home to Rady Children’s talented government affairs, newborn screening, school health and Center for Healthier Communities teams. Their hometown is aptly named, since this well-connected bunch interfaces so heavily with different individuals and organizations throughout the San Diego community (and beyond). The residents had a jam-packed visit planned for me, so we dove right into the program, beginning with a presentation from government affairs.

Learning the GA ropes with Barbara

Vice President Barbara Ryan, along with Grant and Community Coordinator Lisa Lomas and Executive Assistant Pamela King, provided me with an overview of the many diverse responsibilities under her team’s purview. For example, did you know that Rady Children’s received $98 million for updates that have allowed us to better support our community’s families, including those from underserved areas? It’s true, thanks to government affairs’ hard work with securing legislative grants, including this particular grant through Proposition 3. With the support of these funds, I learned we were able to build the ACP, implement our Epic system and remodel key areas within our Plaza building. Another big initiative for government affairs is its community benefit program. “I work with the Hospital Association of San Diego & Imperial Counties on the Community Health Needs Assessment,” Lisa explained. “Using those findings, I help craft reports and make sure all state and federal laws are adhered to.” This is a huge and important undertaking that helps ensure nonprofit hospitals like us understand and fulfill the needs of the patients we serve, and I feel wholly confident that Rady Children’s contributions are in capable hands.

Tote-ally support the California Newborn Screening Program

Next, I got an interesting overview of the California Newborn Screening Program Area Service Center 99, which is right here at Rady Children’s! Keri LeBlanc, the program’s director, explained that she and her six-person team liaise with the California Department of Public Health, as well as health care facilities and practitioners throughout our designated region, to oversee all newborn health screenings for babies born in San Diego, Orange, Riverside and Imperial Counties. Using a few drops of blood from newborns, the mandatory screening (exemptions can only be made for religious beliefs) is designed to help identify genetic conditions in infants, in turn supporting early intervention that can optimize outcomes for little ones. As an Area Service Center, Rady Children’s is heavily involved from start to finish, and is responsible for overseeing forms, pinpointing any errors with collections, and reporting on any positive results. With more than 88,000 samples collected in our area during the last fiscal year, that’s no small feat. Kudos to this team for seamlessly running an initiative that can quite literally save newborns’ lives (and for giving me some nice gear to remember your dedication by).

Diana Chase, supervisor of the Hospital’s school health screening program, then led me through this important Rady Children’s offering. Diana noted that there are state mandates in place that require students in certain grades to receive hearing and vision screenings from credentialed school nurses. However, many districts don’t employ nurses in numbers to fulfill this requirement, which is where Rady Children’s comes in. We work with districts all over San Diego County to conduct hearing screenings for kids in kindergarten, second, fifth, eighth and tenth grades; vision screenings for kids in kindergarten, second, fifth and eighth grades; color vision screenings for boys in first grade; individual education plan screenings; and health in-services. All told, in fiscal year 2018-2019, we supported 100 schools across 11 public districts, as well as 21 charter schools and four private schools, to conduct a total of 69,015 screenings. I also got a rundown of our school health contract program, which is in collaboration with National School District. Through this initiative, we have a health care professional presence in 10 elementary schools, as well as a preschool program, that supports students’ unique medical needs — ranging from help with medication to diabetes management to ostomy care — while at school. After starting about 20 years ago (three of its original four members are still here — glad to have you, Concepcion, Grace and Maria!), the program has grown to include 17 employees, including a health assistant at each school. With this dedicated team in place, they were able to support more than 29,000 student visits last fiscal year. These stats for both school programs are impressive, and their work is important for keeping our community’s children healthy and ready to learn.

Building a bridge to healthier communities

I then headed to the great outdoors of the EOB courtyard, where I met with members of the Center for Healthier Communities team. With Mary Beth Moran, the center’s director, leading the way, I made my way along the “river” that flowed by stations representing each of the center’s five priority areas: injury prevention, oral health, maternal and child health, healthy lifestyles, and youth development. I was excited to find out more about the many incredible programs the center runs and partners with. For instance, Health Stars brings volunteer health professionals into underserved areas to connect with parents of kids ages 0 through 5. They can discuss important health issues, take parents’ questions, hold events that encourage families to read or cook together — and that just scratches the surface! It was so neat to know that our organization is behind such a useful and necessary resource. Another awesome program is FACES for the Future, which offers high school students from vulnerable communities a three-year opportunity to learn about the myriad career paths available in the health care field. Participants can shadow professionals, meet with mentors and build a network, as well as prepare for success in college and future health careers. Rady Children’s and the Center for Healthier Communities is the local hub for the national FACES program — what a privilege! After chatting with experts at each station, I was able to collect planks labeled with each focus area, which I then put together to build a “bridge to keep people happy and healthy” over the river. I thought that was a very fun and creative symbol of how the Center for Healthier Communities serves San Diego!

I’m now an official Communityville visitor

At that point, my journey was almost complete — but not without stamps from my hosts. After ensuring my passport was up-to-date, I departed Communityville feeling very glad I visited, and very honored to know and work with its “residents.” I look forward to a return trip!