Flour, salt and water are simple ingredients, but when Sheila Casey, special projects manager at Boston Medical Center’s bWell Center, sets them in front of the five young children surrounding her, something magical happens. After each child takes a turn at measuring, pouring and stirring, these kitchen staples transform into the ultimate childhood delight: playdough.
The recipe is much the same for BMC’s bWell Center—the ingredients are basic, but the impact is lasting. The lively orange and white space just outside BMC’ s outpatient pediatric clinic is revolutionizing the concept of a hospital resource center, enhancing the health and wellness of families receiving care at BMC through dynamic demonstrations and unique community partnerships.
“It would be impossible to provide written information in every language and literacy level to meet the needs of our diverse patient base. We needed to develop a radically different model of support,” explained Meg Wood, MPH, MSW, project manager in BMC’s Department of Pediatrics. “Actively engaging our families through hands-on programming increases retention and the likelihood of incorporating wellness information into their everyday lives.”
The focus is on fun. Every hour, the pediatric center’s volunteers engage patients in activities that emphasize nutrition, exercise for kids and early childhood enrichment. Children can participate in yoga, nutrition bingo and make-your-own-playdough sessions to name a few. Drawing contests promote creativity and self-esteem and help keep restless children occupied before their doctor appointments.
The bWell Center is also the access point for many health and wellness services throughout the hospital. Families can sign up to learn to cook healthy meals at BMC’s Demonstration Kitchen, and healthy snacks are constantly on hand thanks to deliveries from the hospital’s Preventive Food Pantry. Pediatricians concerned about their patients’ sedentary lifestyles can even write prescriptions to bWell’s Jump Rope Clinic, where children learn the fundamentals of skipping rope and also receive a complimentary jump rope to take home.
The bWell Center extends its value through unique partnerships with other Boston-area programs. Countdown to Kindergarten, a not-for-profit organization focused on early childhood education, provides weekly classes at the bWell Center for preschool-aged children and hosts a monthly Boston Public School enrollment session for families. As the first hospital-based satellite location of the Boston Public Library, the bWell Center pioneered the Check It Out program, which loans patients and their families library books focused on relevant health topics. Library staff members visit the center each month to replenish and refresh the collection and to read with patients and register them for library cards.
In its first year, the bWell Center has served more than 1,500 pediatric patients and their families with these simple interventions and services. The center has many plans to continue to evolve its programming and partnerships to empower young patients to make positive wellness choices that last a lifetime.