Healthy Steps

Program Helps Physicians, Parents Better Understand Healthy Childhood Development

Phoenix is a popular locale for pediatric residencies, and all five of the Valley’s residency training hospitals have integrated practices that help physicians better understand child development. That’s good news for Maricopa County children, because research shows that most pediatricians who train here stay in Arizona.

Four of the hospitals–Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Mayo Clinic Arizona in Scottsdale and Scottsdale Healthcare–have received Trust grants to integrate Healthy Steps child development practices into their pediatric or family medicine residency programs. A national initiative, Healthy Steps for Young Children emphasizes a close relationship between healthcare professionals and parents in addressing the physical, emotional and intellectual growth and development of children from birth to age 3.

Two other Phoenix hospitals–Maricopa Integrated Health System (MIHS) and St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center–have developed similar training programs that enable new physicians to learn that providing effective healthcare includes understanding child and family development. In total, the Piper Trust has invested $1.3 million in Healthy Steps and similar programs.

Since 2006, the Trust has awarded grants to establish a family learning center at Maricopa Medical Center that will serve as a catalyst to educate parents and train pediatric residents. A family educator will assist parents and children in the center as well as provide child development training for pediatric residents.

In addition to programs targeted at the medical community, Healthy Steps focuses on educating and empowering parents about healthy infant and toddler development, creating an environment of partnership between doctors and families.

As one of the first hospitals in the country to offer the program in the neonatal intensive care unit, Banner Desert Medical Center matches interested parents of NICU babies born at least eight weeks early with a Healthy Steps specialist throughout the infants’ first 18 months. Healthy Steps specialists work one-on-one with parents through home visits to monitor development, and they also attend well-child doctor visits.

“It’s great to work hand-in-hand with a developmental specialist. They’re involved with the moms and … are assessing children in their home environments for a longer period of time versus the short period of time we see them in the office,” remarked Dr. Jean Mullen from Mesa Pediatrics, who sees more than a dozen patients who are Healthy Steps participants. She noted that by educating parents and closely monitoring the first critical months, the program helps children who could easily fall through the cracks.