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Creating Caring Places 

At Sacred Heart's Children's Hospital, staff are learning how to help parents in stress through difficult times

The staff at Sacred Medical Center's Children's Hospital has seen many varying forms of child abuse through the years. The frequency with which it is seen doesn't make it any easier to deal with, however.

“Staff recently shared with me a story of a mother here in the hospital that was literally dragging a child — not the one being treated — down the hallway in a tirade,” says Susan Stacey, the Nursing Manager of Pediatric Intensive Care at SHMC’s Children’s Hospital. “They were disturbed, wanted to intervene, but no one knew how to de-escalate the situation.” 

The pressure of life can be excruciating, and there are few places where stress and tension can be higher than at a children’s hospital. That is why starting in April, which also marks Child Abuse Prevention Month, SHMC’s Children’s Hospital will start a training program designed to handle these types of scenarios.

“Let’s face it, it’s easy for a mom to have a meltdown in an elevator if she’s got several [other children] with her,” says Danita Petek, SHMC’s Public Relations and Marketing Director. “These are situations that can be hard to navigate; the initial inclination is not to get involved.”

The tentative title for the training program is SAFE: Support a Family Friendly Environment, Stacey says.

The model has been implemented at several other children’s hospitals around the country. SHMC has been in close contact with Phoenix’s Children’s Hospital in recent weeks about how to assist hospital staff members in providing a safe and friendly firewall between emotional parents or guardians and their children.

“We want to empower staff and reinforce in them that they have permission — and are expected — to be able to say, `May I help you?’ ’’ Petek says. “We want to make the hospital a place where children are always treated with respect.”

A seemingly simple gesture such as offering to push a stroller or assisting a parent to the car with their belongings can go a long way in helping to minimize a stressful situation.

The program will start in the general medical center, according to Petek. Sacred Heart officials envision this model spreading to the rest of the facility, to waiting rooms, and to the physicians’ and pediatrics departments.

And it shouldn’t stop there, Petek adds. Sacred Heart officials would like to take the program on the road by shopping it to local businesses in the greater community. “A lot of these programs would be a great benefit to businesses where children are present,” Petek says.

Stacey says staff members recognize their initial training and education didn’t take contentious family situations into account.

“We want to be able to deal with these situations without having to call security every time,” Stacey says. “It’s our desire to be able to support parents without judging them or making them feel like they’re being judged.”

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