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March 29, 2019

On the Front Lines: St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s Emergency/Trauma Center

By Anu Varma Panchal

Parenting is not without risks—chances are that at some point in your child’s life, you’ve been or will be panicked and desperate, clutching an ill or injured child and praying for the best. The most carefully thought-out procedures and practiced methods can fly out the window when a parent is in this situation, which is why it’s a good idea to have at least one thing firmly fixed in your mind: the one place where you’ll take that child if something unthinkable happens.

In Tampa Bay, your best bet may be the Steinbrenner Emergency/Trauma Center at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, one of the rare pediatric ERs in the country exclusively staffed by board-certified pediatric emergency physicians who are specifically trained to care for pediatric emergencies. That means every one of the doctors who staff the center, as well as the nurse practitioners and physician assistants who work here, have undergone the extra years of rigorous training to be certified to treat sick and injured children in this setting.

“Many people think of children as tiny adults, but the way children’s bodies function is quite different from adults,” says Dr. Jeffery Pender, associate medical director of the Steinbrenner Emergency/Trauma Center at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital. “The medical component, the social component of pediatrics is unique. Pediatric emergency medicine entails very narrowly focused and specialized training.”

Dr. Pender is one of the 16 physicians who see nearly 50,000 children who flow through the ER each year, making this state-designated pediatric trauma center the busiest pediatric emergency center in the region. He explains that taking your children to a pediatric ER is guaranteed to be a completely different experience than that of taking them to a general ER. In fact, national studies show that children with multiple injuries treated at pediatric trauma centers have significantly higher survival rates (more than twice as high) than at adult trauma centers.

As well as child-friendly décor and a soothing environment, the 22,000-square-foot Steinbrenner Emergency/Trauma Center boasts 22 private rooms, six “fast track” rooms for minor emergencies and two trauma suites for critically ill or injured children. There’s an isolation room for those with infectious diseases, and separate waiting rooms for those who are well and sick.

Thoughtful touches are reflected everywhere, from the décor to the choice of movies available, but parents are grateful also for the advanced critical care technology, specialized equipment designed specifically for kids and diagnostic equipment (such as a portable X-Ray machine) that allows a child to be diagnosed right then and there without a long wait or a transfer to another area within the hospital. Every pediatric subspecialty is covered here, with no shortage of experts, whether you need a neurologist, orthopedic surgeon or plastic surgeon. Sick or injured children can be picked up and brought here from any area hospital using a pediatric ambulance or helicopter.

Other BayCare hospitals with a dedicated pediatric ER are Mease Countryside Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital-South. In addition to the excellent care provided by board-certified pediatric emergency physicians at these facilities, patients also have access to the pediatric specialists at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital if needed.

Sick children often have emotional needs as well as medical ones, and the ER’s dedicated Child Life Specialists work with children and their siblings to reduce fear and anxiety with an array of services, from coloring, bubbles and stickers to pet and music therapy.

Dr. Pender points out that sometimes, it’s not just the patient who needs soothing. When you’re dealing with a sick child—particularly if it’s a preverbal infant or toddler—you’re also dealing with a distraught family. There’s grief support, and patient advocates to collect information and call relatives in case the parents are unable to do so, or in case children come in without their parents.

Children have come in immediately after birth—such as after a delivery that occurred outside a hospital and resulted in complications—and can be seen here up to the age of 19. Upticks in admits often occur during the afternoons and nights, and while summers are busier with injuries, the school months are when the most sick kids come in.

For Dr. Pender, all of it is exactly what he lives for. “The beauty of pediatric care is that you can make such a huge impact,” he says. “Children are incredibly resilient. Their bodies heal so well, giving them the best possible chance of a full recovery. And when we save lives, we have an impact on not only that child’s life, but that of the entire family. It is extremely rewarding and I could not imagine doing anything else.”

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