Parental Guidance

Mary Greeley expands hospitalist program to pediatrics.

By Stephanie Marsau

Pediatric Hospitalist at Mary Greeley Medical Center

Dr. Laura Hufford, a pediatric hospitalist, checks
on little Liv Danielson in Mary Greeley's pediatrics
unit. Liv's mom, Kristina, looks on.

It’s still dark outside on a chilly December morning, and pediatric hospitalist Dr. Laura Hufford is already busy checking in on Mary Greeley Medical Center’s youngest patients and their parents.

She stops first at Pediatrics. Next she visits a young woman in the Intensive Care and Cardiac Unit. Finally, she makes it to Birthways in time to be on hand to provide neonatal resuscitation at a delivery that is underway. Shortly after all this, Hufford learns she should prepare for a set of twins that are expected to arrive later that day. (She’ll be back at Pediatrics that afternoon, too, to see a little boy with a serious knee injury.)

It’s then time to make rounds on the Birthways unit to see newborns and moms. In one room, it’s obvious the mother hasn’t slept and Hufford stresses the importance of being well rested. In another room, she addresses the concerns of first-time parents, using her own experiences as a mother of two boys to help ease their anxiety. And in yet another room, she gives a new mom pointers on how to breastfeed.

“My favorite part of the job is being able to explain to moms and dads what’s causing their child to be ill and then helping their child heal, Hufford says. The relief and gratitude expressed by families is nearly as rewarding as helping heal their child.”

What is a Hospitalist?

As the name would suggest, a hospitalist is a board-certified physician who specializes in caring for patients who have been admitted to the hospital. A hospitalist is a key part of the patient care team at Mary Greeley. They spearhead the treatment plan, coordinate care with specialists, monitor a patient’s condition and communicate regularly with primary care physicians. Because they spend all their time at the hospital, hospitalists can respond quickly to changes in a patient’s condition.

“There’s nothing more stressful, or sometimes scary, than your own child being sick. You just want to know what’s going on, so I try to tell the parents exactly that,” she says. “This helps to build a relationship with the patient and family, which is so important. Knowing what is wrong and what the treatment plan is helps put people at ease.”

Hufford works at Mary Greeley, but is part of McFarland Clinic. She works closely with area obstetricians, pediatricians and other specialists who are treating newborns and children.

“The hospitalist program works as well as it does because of the relationships the hospitalists have with the primary care physicians,” Hufford says. “We provide their patients with specialized care and communicate with them throughout their patients’ entire hospital stay.”

One of the major differences between a hospitalist and a primary care physician is that a patient has an on-going relationship with their primary care doctor, but may only see a hospitalist one time.

“Sometimes I wonder about patients I’ve treated after they are well and home from the hospital,” Hufford says. “I used to tell my patients that I hoped to see them soon, but realized in order for that to happen they would need to be sick. So now I say that it was great meeting them, but I hope to not see them again.”

A New Program is Born

Pediatric Hospitalist Program at Mary Greeley

"My favorite part of the job is being able
to explain to moms and dads what's
causing their child to be ill and then
helping their child heal. The relief and
gratitude expressed by families is nearly
as rewarding as helping heal their child."
-Dr. Laura Hufford

Mary Greeley Medical Center has several hospitalists who care for adults. In 2013, a decision was made to create a similar program for pediatric patients. The timing couldn’t have been better for Hufford.

After her husband accepted a faculty position at Iowa State University, the Huffords packed up and moved halfway across the country from California to Iowa.

Hufford had been a pediatric hospitalist at UC Davis Medical Center and
Roseville Women’s and Children Center, but was now moving to a city that didn’t have a pediatric hospitalist program … at least not yet. After checking out a couple hospitals in central Iowa, Hufford learned that Mary
Greeley was looking to start a program.

Following discussions with hospital administration, she knew that building the new program was what her next step needed to be. The only issue was that she needed one more hospitalist who could share the workload. That’s where Dr. Kathleen Foster-Wendel stepped in. A McFarland Clinic pediatrician since 1987, Foster-Wendel opted to discontinue her regular practice to become a pediatric hospitalist at Mary Greeley.

“My decision to leave my practice was not an easy one, but ultimately the benefits of having a pediatric hospitalist program won out,” Foster-Wendel says. “I have experience with critical care and neonatal medicine, and also thought it was important to have a pediatrician from our community help Dr. Hufford kick off the new program.”

Lee Bauer and Marli Mesa got the pediatrics team experience in late December when they welcomed their first child into the world. The little girl, named Erin, displayed rapid breathing when she was born, which alerted hospital staff that something might be wrong. Erin was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and an X-ray showed she had fluid in her lungs. Hufford oversaw the infant’s care, and later Foster-Wendel was involved with Erin’s discharge.

“We were in the hospital a little longer than planned because of Erin’s situation, but the level of care and attention from everyone was outstanding,” Bauer says. “We were really impressed by the level of communication from the nurses and all the doctors. They were concise and straightforward and helped us understand everything that was happening. Both doctors Hufford and Foster-Wendel commented on now cute Erin was too. As a proud father, I appreciated that a lot.”

Help for Families

The pediatric hospitalist program has many benefits for patients, including helping keep their care close to home. “Sometimes really sick kids have been transferred to another hospital and that’s tough on families,” Hufford says. “Because we specialize in those more serious pediatric issues, our hope is that those kids can stay closer to home during an illness.”

A pediatric hospitalist is present in the hospital from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. There are plans to eventually expand staffing to 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We also provide consults to other departments and identify needs throughout the hospital that will allow us to care for kids better. Expanding the program would allow us to monitor our patients even more closely and provide a higher level of expertise,” Hufford says. “Our ultimate goal is to improve the overall quality of care our pediatric patients and their families receive, and this program is a huge step in the right direction.”

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