Within the past 12 months, did you or your family worry whether your food would run out before you got money or SNAP (food stamps) to buy more?
When families come for a checkup at the Danis Pediatric Center, the outpatient pediatric primary care practice of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, they have the chance to check yes or no to that question and 15 more about their family’s general wellbeing. That’s the first step of the CARES program.
CARES, which stands for Connection and Resource Equity Services, connects patients’ families with resources and provides follow-up support and guidance. The goal of the program is to address “social determinants of health and how we can move forward in not just acknowledging that these issues occur but then putting resources in families’ hands and making sure they have the connections,” CARES program manager Nancy McEuen said.
CARES “family navigators” work with patients’ families to address access to food, utilities, housing, baby supplies and resources like SNAP or WIC, as well as mental health, safety and more. The initial questionnaire ends by simply asking, “Is there anything else we can help you with today?” and serves as a starting point for family navigators to talk with parents about any factors that are causing stress on the family.
“If a family comes in and is in need of diapers, we can offer them diapers. And then we also follow that with giving them a resource on where they can get diapers out in the community,” Nancy said.
The CARES program began in July 2021 and is active at both Danis Pediatrics locations, at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and the brand-new clinic at Kingshighway and Arsenal in the Tower Grove neighborhood. The CARES team includes McEuen, who also does part-time family navigator work, and a full-time family navigator at each location. A Danis Pediatrics social worker is also available to assist families.
Most people think pediatric visits are only about children, Nancy said, but the CARES program takes a more holistic approach.
“We really do care for the betterment of the entire family,” Nancy said. “That’s why our title is ‘family navigator,’ because we’re not just there for the babies and pediatric services — we’re there for the family.”
If a family starts coming to Danis Pediatrics with a newborn, by the time the child is 3, the family navigators have had 11 checkups to get to know them. As that relationship develops, the family navigators can also serve as a bridge between the family and the medical team, Nancy said. “We help the whole team understand that this family may have missed six appointments because they have no transportation, and we’re working on that with the family. It can give them a little bit better understanding,” she said. “We all have to work as a team to really help these families.”
Family navigator Emily Hojnacki has been working at Danis Pediatrics for about a year and a half. Her background is in social work, but she was excited to start working in a health care setting because of the big-picture approach of the CARES program. “I think it’s great that we can support families and make sure that they really have everything they need to be a healthy family,” she said.
She strives to meet every family with kindness and compassion, working to build trust so that she can help families with both immediate and longer-term needs. A storage closet in the clinic is stocked with diapers, baby clothes, formula, menstrual products and food kits that she can give families right then and there, and she follows up frequently with families on connections to food, housing and other social services.
Emily sees her job as an important part of the SSM Health mission, “Through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God.”
To her, that means “welcoming all of our families, who come from so many different backgrounds, and there’s so many things going on in their lives,” she said. “We make sure that when they’re here, they’re safe, and they’re welcomed with open arms no matter what they’re going through.”
The Danis Pediatric Center
The Danis Pediatric Center provides outpatient pediatric primary care services. There are two locations in St. Louis: a clinic at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital and a brand-new clinic in the Tower Grove neighborhood.
The Danis Pediatric Center moved to the Tower Grove neighborhood after outgrowing its former Midtown space on Forest Park Avenue. The Tower Grove clinic is located in a former Walgreens store at the corner of Kingshighway Boulevard and Arsenal Street. This new location is located right by a bus stop, making it more easily accessible by public transportation. The Danis Pediatric Center Tower Grove was able to become a reality by support of donors and a large portion of funds were raised at the annual Glennon Gallop event that happens each September.
To learn more about the Danis Pediatric Center and the CARES program, visit ssmhealth.com/cardinal-glennon/conditions-treatments/danis-pediatric-center.