May 17, 2019 — You might think a facility that cares for kids with multiple medical, physical and developmental disabilities would be a depressing place. But at the Helen Bernardy Center for Medically Fragile Children, nothing could be further from the truth! With activities such as dance parties, karaoke, spa nights and music time, the Bernardy Center is a vibrant, engaging environment.

Getting a high five from Lucas

My first stop was in the activity room, where the “baby playground” was in full swing. Every morning, Monday through Friday, the littlest residents come together to play, learn and receive therapies. That’s where I met Lucas, a happy little guy who was proud to show me his photo and give me a high five.

The interdisciplinary team at the Bernardy Center provides both skilled nursing and subacute care 24 hours a day. It includes the program director; physicians; licensed nurses; occupational, physical and recreational therapists; a dietitian; a social worker; and certified nursing assistants. The resident’s parents or guardians, the San Diego Regional Center service coordinator, and a San Diego Unified School District teacher are also part of the team.

Because the residents live at the Bernardy Center, the staff gets to know them like family. Younger children stay at the center for an average of three to five years, and older kids spend an average of 10 to 12 years there. Just because the residents live at the Bernardy Center doesn’t mean they never get out. Off-campus events include trips to the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, SeaWorld, Mission Bay, Padres Games and the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Learning about the Safety Coach program

Most of the patients here are non-ambulatory, with the exception of Lucas (who I mentioned earlier) and little Larissa, who I met as she was toddling around the unit. She was not impressed with my attempts to get her to walk over to me, as the photo clearly shows!

I then happened upon the high school-age residents (the “Bernady Bengals”) in the hallway, who were gathered for music therapy. Two of these teenagers represent the class of 2019 and will participate in a graduation ceremony in June.

I was struck by how the staff is so committed to making every day special for these kids. They learn to monitor the moods of the residents, noticing subtle changes that can indicate when something is wrong. The intuition this team has developed is so valuable to the work they do.

My latest stamp with a great photo!

They show their commitment in other ways, too. For example, staff developed the “Lighthouse Initiative” to help them all work together better as a team and curb incivility in the workplace. Team members also serve as safety coaches, monitoring and developing safety practices to ensure a safe and healthful environment for staff, patients and patient families.

When it comes to fulfilling Rady Children’s mission, this team demonstrates daily their dedication to restore, sustain and enhance the health and developmental potential of children.