LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Imagine being 5 years old and going to the hospital to discover your name on the door, your own personal Wii, an individual playmate to distract you from medical procedures and a sleeper sofa where your parents get to spend the night. That's just the beginning at the new Pediatric Unit at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.
"We're so excited," said Dr. Ronald Flaster, director of pediatric care. "This is the only hospital in the area that has board-certified pediatricians working in the emergency room. That's a big difference from having adult doctors seeing children.
"Now we're actually going to have a pediatric floor," he added. "We've had pediatricians in the ER already, but when you needed to be admitted at 4 a.m., you no longer have to go into another hospital. You can be admitted here. You will have the same people taking care of you the whole time."
Previously, children with chronic conditions like asthma or even cancer could be treated on an emergency basis at Lakewood Ranch, but if their illness required observation or ongoing care, they would have to be transported to another medical facility such as Manatee Memorial in Bradenton, Sarasota Memorial or All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. With the addition of a dedicated pediatric unit, those patients can now stay on site.
"Before I had a patient with gastroenteritis at 4 a.m. and the child couldn't get well enough to go home. The mother begged me to keep them, but we just weren't open yet. Now we can keep them," Flaster said.
"What we were seeing in our emergency room were about 24 percent children," estimated Johanna Pumphrey, executive director of inpatient services. "Now what we have is the opportunity to care for those children in our community and keep them here if they need it versus transferring them elsewhere. Those that need to be cared for here, we get to keep. It is a wonderful safety net for the children in our community."
The new unit includes six family-size suites built to serve one patient or two siblings from the same family and a separate playroom for the children. In each suite "there are two televisions, one for the child equipped with a Wii and a second one for the parents or guardians so they can rest. We have Internet access in all the rooms, sleeping areas in all the rooms for all of the families, two tables, a mini fridge and private baths and showers," she added.
Healthy siblings are invited if there are no other accommodations for them, Pumphrey said. "They are really caring for the full family unit. The idea is getting that sick child better and back on his or her feet. We believe the right thing to do is the caring thing to do. While they are here, the parents eat free."
An important feature involves the work of Child Life Specialist Tanya Prete, whose master's degree centers on pediatric care. "We have the child life specialist on staff to specialize in distraction play for the children so while they are here she spends time with the child in age-appropriate play. She's also available to attend any procedures the child may be having so she can distract the child so they can be done swiftly and quickly," Pumphrey said.
"The community has been asking for this for years," said Jennifer Bryan, director of marketing. "It's such a family community that when we finally received the approval, our CEO Jim Wilson was so happy. He's a good listener and he heard the community's cries."
Some of the funding that helped furnish the new unit came from the Payton Wright Foundation, inspired by a little girl who lived in Lakewood Ranch and died of childhood cancer but could not be treated there at the time.
"Her parents have two other children and their purpose is to assist children living with cancer. They became involved because they weren't able to use this hospital with Payton and had to go to St. Petersburg's All Children's Hospital. They saw the benefit this was going to be for local families," she added. The foundation contributed to toys and Wii systems for every room. The playroom is named "Payton's Playroom" in her honor.
A new 55-inch flat screen television was added to the unit by the Hospital Auxiliary, thanks to funds raised in the Jingle 5K Walk/Run at Lakewood Ranch. Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine student Brian Fiedler painted one of the new rooms with a large mural.
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be contacted at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024 or tweet@DeeGrahamBH