Newswise — ST. LOUIS – Saint Louis University has received $2 million from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) as one of five medical centers making up a new network created to improve coordinated pandemic care for children.  

The funds are a portion of the $48 million awarded to University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. The funds establish a Regional Pediatric Pandemic Network, led by Charles G. Macias, M.D., chief of pediatric emergency medicine and chief quality officer at UH Rainbow.

Rachel Charney, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and a SLUCare emergency medicine pediatrician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, is the local primary investigator.

SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital is the only local hospital represented in the network and one of five nationwide. The other hospitals and affiliated academic medical centers in the networks include UH Rainbow in Cleveland; the University of California San Francisco-Benioff Children’s Hospital; University of Louisville School of Medicine-Norton Children’s Hospital; and University of Utah, Primary Children’s.

Charney, who also serves as medical director of disaster preparedness for Cardinal Glennon, the School of Medicine and SLUCare Physician Group and has a secondary appointment in SLU’s College for Public Health and Social Justice, will coordinate all the St. Louis-area efforts.

“Our goal is to streamline and coordinate pediatric care for global health threats as well as representation in all disaster preparedness and response activities,” Charney said. “This grant will help bring SLU and Cardinal Glennon to the forefront of expertise on kids and disasters.”

The network of children’s hospitals will serve as a hub-and-spoke model of expertise to support efforts for pediatric readiness and disaster preparedness (including pandemics) by incorporating specific focus areas, called “domains” (such as trauma, equity, analytics, and others) to define best practices as supported by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR), HRSA, Emergency Medical Services for Children (EMSC), and other existing workgroups.

Charney will create a disaster plan for the region, working to eliminate some of the silos that currently exist. Disasters can be a natural disaster, a pandemic or a mass-casualty event like a school bus accident or a shooting.

“Disaster preparedness is really based on what your resources are at a given moment,” Charney said. “A disaster at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday could be different than one on a Saturday night.”

She said regional disaster preparedness needs to include a coordinated plan to direct patients to the right facility for the right care. Charney said her goal is to improve the process overall, so that during a natural disaster or pandemic, children’s health care can be coordinated across facilities, agencies and regions.

“As a mom, reunification is a passion of mine,” she said. “When parents and children are separated during a disaster, how can we reunite them in the quickest and safest way possible? We want a regional plan so that parents aren’t wasting precious time trying to find their child.”

Macias asked Charney to work with him on the grant as a site PI based on her expertise in pediatric disaster preparedness and pre-hospital work. Charney will strengthening bonds between community hospitals and children’s medical centers, as well as working with first responders.

One area of Charney’s work will involve using Cardinal Glennon’s Special Needs Tracking and Awareness Response System (STARS) as a best-practice model that can be used to train first responders around the country in the best way to treat pediatric patients. Currently, STARS provides individualized training to hospitals and first responders in more than 30 counties to help them better care for children living in their district who have challenging medical needs, such as heart defects, autism, neurological disorders and more.

Steven Laffey, M.D., professor of pediatrics at SLU and a SLUCare pediatrician, will be working with Charney as an expert in pediatric prehospital care.

“We want to make sure that EMS agencies have the training, tools and knowledge they need to have to take care of children,” Charney said. “They don’t deal with children on a regular basis and we need them to be comfortable.”

Charney said making them comfortable includes education, telehealth, and integrating care between EMS and emergency departments.

“We began this work before the global pandemic, and 2020 proved how important it is for hospitals, health care infrastructures, government and private entities to work together to create a coordinated emergency response model,” said Macias. “This grant is an amazing opportunity to grow a national model whose impact can inform all aspects of pediatric preparedness, from daily efforts to global health threats.”

Saint Louis University School of Medicine

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.

SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital

A leading academic medical center, with a Level I Pediatric Trauma Center and Level IV NICU, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital is a not-for-profit hospital staffed by the SLUCare Physician Group of Saint Louis University School of Medicine providing pediatric care to communities throughout Illinois, Missouri and beyond. At SSM Health Cardinal Glennon, we care for children and offer services beyond that support the overall well-being of our patients. We are committed not only to healing children today, but finding new ways to help them stay healthy in the future. SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital has been designated a Magnet® Hospital by ANCC.