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St. Charles Bend adds new role: Child life specialist


Pediatric patients at St. Charles Bend have a new advocate and source of support in Jeri Young, the hospital announced Tuesday, introducing its first-ever child life specialist.

Young has already helped a boy with diabetes and needle anxiety do his own finger sticks and injections. She’s prepared a girl needing a tonsillectomy for the operating room and helped assuage her fear and anxiety. And she’s helped another girl with needle phobia have an IV started and later, while in the playroom, worked with her to develop a plan for future painful procedures.

Young said her role is to help promote effective coping through play, self-expression activities and age-appropriate medical education. She explains to children what’s going to happen, practices deep-breathing techniques with them and talks through the procedure as it’s performed, the hospital said in a news release announcing the new position.

“It’s so rewarding to see a situation that’s unfamiliar or can be scary to families and children, and then by the time you work with them and give them the confidence and teach them the skills, they can do it,” said Young, who brings to her position 37 years of experience working as a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs, as well as Shriners Hospitals for Children and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland.

Funded by more than $140,000 raised by the St. Charles Foundation, the hospital’s child life specialist program was created to help young patients and their families adjust and cope with hospital or clinic settings, illness or injury and the treatments involved.

Because children process information much differently from adults, they have distinct needs for managing the effects of stress and trauma.

Child life specialists like Young are trained professionals with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the areas of child life, human development and family studies, child and adolescent development, counseling, special education or similar fields. They have expertise in helping children and their families overcome life’s most challenging events and the importance of their work is well documented.

Reasons to call a child life specialist include:

· Preparation, education and support for procedures or surgeries

· Medical play and therapeutic play needs

· Non-pharmacological pain/stress management techniques

· Difficulty taking oral medications

· Difficulty coping with hospitalization or procedures

· Medical care plan compliance

· New diagnosis or life-changing illness or injury

· Sibling preparation, education and support

· Parent education and support

· Death or impending death

“I think having a child life specialist is something a lot of us have had at children’s hospitals, but it’s an amazing resource you can have that makes the whole hospital more pediatric-friendly,” said Dr. Suzanne Mendez, medical director of the pediatric hospitalist program at St. Charles Bend .

“For me, it means the kids hopefully can recover faster and they can get through procedures without having to be quite as deeply sedated. And they’re easier for me to examine because they’re not so anxious,” Mendez said.

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