Commentary: Serving as a ‘Medical Home’

Commentary: Serving as a ‘Medical Home’

Neighborhood Health, the local community health center, offers health services to the entire family, but it is their pediatric services that particularly shine for the more than 7,900 children and adolescents it serves. Neighborhood Health is unlike a private practice, and it takes pride in being adept at treating the whole child and family.

Just walking through the halls on any given day is an education on what it means to serve as a “Medical Home.” Does your pediatrician ask about your daughter’s dental care? Does he or she apply fluoride during her well-child check-up? If your son had an anomaly in his mouth, would your pediatrician be able to walk down the hall and ask the dentist to come take a look? If your toddler were having trouble sleeping, would your pediatrician be able to introduce you and your child to the on-site behavioral health therapist who is trained in dealing with childhood sleep concerns? What if your income was stretched thin and you didn’t have enough money for a winter coat for your child — would your pediatrician’s office help you with that?

Well, at Neighborhood Health, parents can just sign up with the Family Support Worker to receive a winter coat from a local charity. What if your baby needed a referral to a cardiologist, but you couldn’t find one who accepts your insurance? Neighborhood Health has Referral Coordinators who help parents navigate the tricky world of specialty care.

These are just some of the wrap-around supports that Neighborhood Health offers to its pediatric patients, with more served every year due to the growth in demand.

Pediatric care begins before a newborn child even leaves the hospital. Neighborhood Health’s Medical Director and pediatrician Dr. Martha Welman notes that while a new mother is still in the hospital recovering after giving birth, an appointment is made for her baby with a Neighborhood Health pediatrician for a thorough evaluation within one or two days after discharge. From there, regular check-ups give the child an excellent early start — as well as same day visits when a child is sick or gets injured. Parents receive extensive education about appropriate nutrition and best parenting practices. Nurses are on-call after hours to answer questions from worried parents — and can call the pediatrician for more complex cases.

Neighborhood Health’s seven Board Certified pediatricians and three nurse practitioners have many years of experience offering a full range of services following the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendations. That includes a strong focus on preventive care — and Neighborhood Health is a leader in Virginia in making sure that its pediatric patients receive all their vaccines. In fact, Neighborhood Health vaccinates 96 percent of its patients by age three years — substantially better than the average of 49 percent for Virginia. Neighborhood Health uses a “no-missed” opportunity approach to vaccinating children, which means fewer illnesses are roaming the halls of local day care facilities and preschools. That’s a benefit to the entire community.

On a recent visit to their health center, Dr. Welman explained that in addition to preventive care, Neighborhood Health pediatricians also perform screenings on children for possible developmental delays — such as autism spectrum or problems with motor skills — at every well child visit. When problems are detected, children are referred to early intervention services that provide the best possible outcomes.

Dr. Welman has been treating children at Neighborhood Health since 2000 when she became first pediatrician at the Arlandria Health Center as the exponential demand for services was just getting started. She has initiated programs to address the needs of their patient population: an asthma treatment initiative, an early literacy program, an insurance enrollment project, and an obesity prevention program, to name a few.

Neighborhood Health’s team of pediatricians take pride in the trusting relationships they develop with parents — and how they are able to encourage them to be active participants in their child’s development. Pediatricians give advice that is helpful to any new parent: “Your baby needs to look at your face, to listen to you, to learn to build trust in this first and most important relationship,” says Dr. Welman. She strongly recommends talking and listening to babies at an early age and maintaining strong eye contact. Mothers are also supported in breast feeding for the child’s first year of life, and are also provided with nutrition information to help their children get off to the best start.

Catching seemingly “little” things can make a big difference in the long-term health of a child. Such was the case for “Samuel” who shortly after his birth was diagnosed with a heart murmur at a routine screening.

Following a referral to a cardiologist, Samuel was identified as having a ventricular septal defect, commonly known as a hole in the heart, a relatively common heart defect that’s present at birth and occurs when the wall that separates the heart’s chambers allows blood to pass from the left to the right side of the heart. Of course, this was disturbing news for his young parents who initially were reluctant to authorize open heart surgery on their son who showed no symptoms of experiencing a heart problem.

Throughout the next couple of years, Dr. Welman would gently remind the parents when they brought Samuel in for his regularly scheduled visits that it would be in his long-term best interest for him to undergo the fairly routine surgery to repair his heart, recognizing that no surgery is routine for any parent placed in such a difficult position.

“We built up a trusting relationship with them and we didn’t push,” she said. Dr. Welman just continued to give Samuel high-quality care until the parents eventually came to the same conclusion and agreed to have the surgery performed. Samuel had the surgery about a year ago, and now is a happy, healthy 4-year-old with an excellent prognosis for a long, full life. And his parents who no longer have the worry if they were doing what was best for their young son. They remain thankful for Dr. Welman’s advice and guidance on such a momentous decision. “He’s doing great,” commented Dr. Welman, who continues to see Samuel at regular intervals.

There are many reasons Dr. Welman has spent most of her career at Neighborhood Health. In addition to treating children and the gratification in seeing them thrive, is the sense of mission that she and all her colleagues share in providing high-quality wrap-around care for thousands of children who might otherwise fall through the cracks. “It’s a wonderful team,” she says. “We’re all mission driven, and we’re very proud of that.”

Neighborhood Health is hosting its annual fundraising gala and charity auction on Friday, Nov. 9 at the Ritz Carlton in Pentagon City. Festivities begin at 6:30 p.m., and they are delighted that Honorary Chairs U.S. Rep. Don Beyer and Megan Beyer will be on-hand to celebrate and to help hand out a special Health Equity Award to 26 Virginia delegates and state senators who represent Alexandria, Arlington County and Fairfax County. This award recognizes their hard work towards Medicaid expansion this past General Assembly session.

Pediatric services are available at four Neighborhood Health clinics, all located with convenient access to public transit: 2 E. Glebe Road and 1200 N. Howard St. in the City of Alexandria, 6677 Richmond Highway and at 2616 Sherwood Hall Lane in the Mount Vernon section of Fairfax County. Appointments may be scheduled by phoning 703-535-5568.