The Children’s Home Pediatric Specialty Hospital wins national award for its Ready. Set. Home! initiative

Photo: Baby Wyatt Watson and his parents at the Pediatric Specialty Hospital. Photo by Tracy Miller Photography.

A series of videos that teaches families how to care for a medically fragile child at home has won a national award for innovation.

The nine-part educational series — Ready. Set. Home! — aims to advance the support already offered to families by The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center’s independent Pediatric Specialty Hospital.

The award from the Society of Pediatric Nurses will be presented at the society’s annual conference in September. The award recognizes creative approaches that can provide better quality care for children and their families.

“What we’re known for in the hospital is training families to become independent caretakers and they really aren’t doing this anywhere else. No one has developed something that is so innovative,” says Kristina Waltman, chief development officer at The Children’s Home. “If you have a medically fragile child who really depends on you to be able to properly change their ventilator and clean their equipment, it’s really intimidating.”

Lynn and her son, Quaevon, pose at the Pediatric Specialty Hospital during his birthday party in April. Photo courtesy of The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center.

Ready. Set. Home! reinforces the Pediatric Specialty Hospital’s teaching that nurses provide to families when these little patients are transitioning from hospital care to home care. The videos cover everyday tasks, such as caring for a central line, changing a tracheostomy tube, gastrostomy tube care and traveling with medical equipment.

Anthem Video recorded and edited the series, which will be shown in patient rooms at the hospital and will be accessible on The Children’s Home website by June. A companion printed binder is currently in production. A portion of a $295,000 grant from the Highmark Foundation paid for the project.

In the videos, clinical staff members from the hospital demonstrate to parents how to provide care with home equipment. Families will learn troubleshooting techniques that may reduce emergency visits to the hospital, Waltman says.

“The videos are meant to supplement our in-hospital teaching and, when they get home, [parents] will be able to access them on a section of our website for a refresher,” she says. “The videos also will be distributed to community members upon request if someone is looking for a resource. So, if a child [elsewhere] could benefit from our resource, we’d be happy to share it.”

Allison Blotzer places her daughter, Lucy, in her Kid Kart Stroller. Photo courtesy of The Children’s Home of Pittsburgh & Lemieux Family Center.

With four units, the 30-bed Pediatric Specialty Hospital was originally founded in 1984 to care for premature and medically fragile infants, but the site expanded in 2007 to serve patients up to age 21. The only hospital of its kind in Pennsylvania, it provides family-centered care in a home-like environment. Education and discharge planning are just two of the ways that the medical team supports families.

At any given time, the hospital’s population is around 22 patients, Waltman says, including babies who are being weaned off legal or illegal substances that their mothers ingested during pregnancy. Patient stays can range from one to four weeks, depending on their needs. Before they go home, family members must be able to demonstrate that they can independently care for a child for 24 hours without requiring assistance. They can stay at the Lemieux Family Center while making sure they can do so.

During the pandemic, other hospitals in the area tapped the Pediatric Specialty Hospital for help with some patients on ventilators, Waltman says. “We have a great relationship with all the surrounding hospitals. A lot of hospitals out of the area turned to us when Covid hit to transfer patients just because we’re known for providing such great care to vulnerable patients. It’s great to be such a resource.”

Any patient accepted for treatment at the Pediatric Specialty Hospital will receive care whether or not their families can pay for it. If the patient has insurance, The Children’s Home bills the insurance plan but will never try to collect any unpaid money from a patient or family.

The videos, Waltman says, “could be a jumping-off point for something that could resolve a much larger problem — which is, issues with in-home nursing and there being a lack of nursing resources.”

Nurse manager Lisa Houlihan and grant writer Marlee Gallagher submitted the videos for the award.

Many staff members have contributed to the project over the years, Waltman says. “Even in our binder that we’re producing, it says ‘Thank you to all the staff of The Children’s Home who have contributed to the program over time.’”