Working Together on a Healthy Solution

By Susan McDonald

Jennifer Doran knows the challenge in getting people the healthcare they deserve is often access and, as vice chair of the Hispanic Health Council Foundation Board, she’s thrilled to be part of a solution.

Doran, director of digestive health and surgery at Hartford HealthCare and co-chair of the Hispanic and Latinx Colleague Resource Group, was on hand when the council announced the March opening of its Family Wellness and Cultural Center at 590 Park St., Hartford.

The center serves as a resource hub providing access to programs and services, embodying the group’s commitment to ensure “people of color have access to the best healthcare possible.

Hartford HealthCare operates the health clinic. Other services include a behavioral health clinic for children and families, recording studio, demo kitchen, dance and art studios, and classrooms.

“This is about making sure we have the connection and taking the difficulty out of it,” Doran says. “We have community partners and allies readily available, we just need to make sure we’re making that connection.”

Building trust, she adds, is also key in the Latino community.

“It’s making sure we have partners and being able to say, ‘Come talk to me, I can help you’ to close the gap,” she adds.

The venture addresses the community’s health on a holistic level, explains Hispanic Health Council CEO Ken Barela. It’s important, he stresses, to address current health needs but provide wellness care to help people in the future.

Mayor Luke Bronin agrees, saying, “We learned something I suspect folks in the Hispanic Health Council have known for a long, long time, which is that all aspects of wellness are tied together.”

Photo: Jennifer Doran, center, vice chair of the Hispanic Health Council Foundation Board and director of digestive health and surgery at Hartford HealthCare, speaks about a new health center in Hartford. Behind her, from left, are: state Sen. John Fonfera; Hispanic Health Council CEO Ken Barela; Mayor Luke Bronin; and state Rep. Minnie Gonzalez.

Babies and Books – A Recipe for Bonding

By Libby Marino
Read to Grow, HOCC Auxiliary buys books for the NICU at the Family Birth Place

Their newborn’s stay in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can leave parents feeling helpless and afraid, but a program at The Hospital of Central Connecticut is supporting them through books.

While the National Institutes of Health estimate up to 15% of babies born in this country spend time in the NICU, few parents are prepared for the machines and tubes, or not being able to hold their baby at times.

Reading is one way to help them bond, so the HOCC Auxiliary helped fund a “Read to Grow” program to help spread awareness of literacy development and the importance of reading to kids from a young age.

“The act of an adult reading to an infant provides brain stimulation and comfort to the baby and family and could promote positive health outcomes for the child. The parent becomes the child’s first teacher and can lay the groundwork for the child to love learning and become successful in school” says Annette B. Salina, auxiliary president.

Benefits of reading to babies in the NICU include:

  • Supporting the parent-child bond.
  • Decreasing stress.
  • Distracting parents from their worries.
  • Calming babies and helping them become familiar with their parents’ voices.

HOCC teamed with Connecticut Children’s for “Read to Grow” as part of the Pediatric Care Alliance. Participating children will receive books until their first birthday and can request more through the program’s website.

“All babies receiving care in the HOCC NICU will receive books of their own for their parents or other adults to read to them,” Salina says.

“Read to Grow” has been building literacy across Connecticut for 20 years, donating more than 2.3 million books.

IOL Fellow Creates Trauma Workbook for Children in Turkey

By Susan McDonald
Hanife Akal, MD, a native of Turkiye (Turkey) and child psychiatry fellow at the Institute of Living, created a special workbook to help the youngest victims of the devastating February earthquake there process their emotions. Photo by Chris Rakoczy.

Fear set in when a flurry of texts exploded on her phone late on February 6, alerting Hanife Akal, MD, to the devastating earthquake that just rocked her native Turkiye (Turkey).

It took days for Dr. Akal, a child psychiatry fellow at the Institute of Living (IOL), and her husband to connect with relatives and friends living around the country. Although thousands died, their loved ones were safe. Some were temporarily displaced, others left homeless. But they were safe.

That’s when the behavioral health practitioner side of her kicked in and she thought of the children.

“I wanted to help them and be part of their healing,” Dr. Akal says.

While Turkiye (Turkey) struggles to create a foster care system and orphanages overflow, she says caregivers needed tools to help them grapple with the losses. The workbook became the academic project for her final year of fellowship. The pages contain guidance for caregivers and space for children of all ages to draw pictures representing their feelings and situations. Caregivers, she stresses, can be any adults caring for children, including family members, teachers, volunteers and professionals.

“We know it’s important to provide brief and simple information to the caregivers in a developmentally appropriate manner,” Dr. Akal explains.

Completed workbooks can serve as reminders — or keepsakes — of the earthquake experience later on. Very young children can draw and tell their caregivers what they’re feeling, and older children can fill the pages in themselves. There are lines for name and age, others for children to describe their emotions or talk about what happened to their families and friends. Coloring pages contain hopeful yet realistic prompts such as a cracked road with cars and birds nearby.

“A disaster like this can be very disorganizing. Encouraging the child to create a story is a powerful way to help them make more adaptive sense of their experience. This workbook is a structured opportunity to tell their story,” Dr. Akal says. “It’s designed to help them focus on who they are, what happened to them, how they feel and their future.”

“Disaster psychiatry” was relatively new to her, but interacting with children is her specialty. Her workbooks are available for free in English, Turkish and Arabic on the websites of New Beginnings and Supporting Child Caregivers, sponsoring non-profit organizations.

The project enabled Dr. Akal to focus on helping people suffering at home.

“There’s a feeling of helplessness. You can’t go over because you have work, but you know how much this will affect them, how deep this goes,” she says. “Relationships and the sense of community can be scaffolding in disasters like this, as we work to help them through, help promote resilience.

“It’s something meaningful that I could do, and it’s become rewarding in a way.”