Our annual Children's Hospital fund-raising campaign does more than help sick kids at the hospital. Care is also available at two busy inner-city clinics. My associate, Beth Schwinn, visited both of them recently. Her report:
The director of Children's two comprehensive health care clinics, Ruth Harley, admits that she is a little surprised at being interviewed. While the main Children's Hospital building is the site of the latest equipment and techniques, Harley sits on the second floor of a rundown brick three-story former school at 2220 11th St. NW. "There's no new medical treatment here," she says. "No life-saving operations, nothing dramatic. Just the basics."
The clinic began in 1925 as a milk-dispensing station. It soon became a well-baby clinic, and a children's comprehensive care clinic in 1967.
As we talk, children are running up and down the halls one floor below. Some show symptoms which may be serious problems, but most are here for shots or checkups, health care that might otherwise be ignored.
Mornings bring patients seemingly without end to both the 11th Street clinic and its counterpart at 2200 Champlain St. NW in Adams-Morgan. The atmosphere is like any doctor's waiting room, except for the sheer volume of patients. Children are everywhere. Sick babies lie in their parents' laps, crying or sleeping. People fill out forms and nurses bring files from rooms full of records.
Loretta Ross has arranged for leave from her job as a physical therapy technician so that she can come to the clinic and discuss Children's. She is tall and soft-spoken, and talks of the hospital with unmistakable warmth.
Now the mother of two daughters (Crystal, 14, and Yolanda, 11), Loretta began coming to the clinic as a child. The family moved all over Washington, but she stayed with the clinic, and although she now lives in Suitland, she brings her daughters here.
Loretta Ross first fell in love with the clinic and the doctors when Crystal was a year old.
"Crystal was sickly all the time. She had chronic asthma, which I have, too, and had developed pneumonia," Loretta Ross said.
She took her daughter to the emergency room at Children's, and was referred to the main clinic. Dr. Beneta Peacock began treating Crystal's asthma, discovered her allergy to penicillin and helped her get over pneumonia. Yolanda, the second child, also has had several bouts with pneumonia. Doctors believe it is tied to the chronic asthma condition.
The clinic referred Crystal to the hospital this past year for a pancreatic tumor operation, a type of low-grade cancer. The operation was successful, and Crystal started school last September on time.
"I have such faith and confidence in them," said Loretta Ross. "They have brought health, advice, helped me work out payments for my hospital bills. They've been for the good in this neighborhood . . . . I'm going to be in debt the rest of my life with Children's because I want them to continue treating her Crystal ."
Though the Adams-Morgan clinic also offers pediatric care, it does so with a difference that's important to its clients: Spanish is spoken.
Though the main 11th Street clinic sees an early afternoon slack, the Adams-Morgan clinic, open since 1968, is perpetually busy. Many patients seem to know each other, and help out with forms or offer advice. Health problems here are truly basic. People come in for referrals when they have no food or no place to live. Often, they get assistance from others waiting in the hall.
The clinic sees between 60 and 80 people a day, drawing Spanish-speaking patients from as far away as Northeast and Southeast. Both Janet Peralta, the patient registrar, and Alexandra Frerotte, the social worker, are fluent in Spanish. Because it is in the same building as the Marie Reed Learning Center, where many of the children attend school, parents known to the clinic staff don't need to take time away from work to assure that their children see a doctor.
Most Hispanic locals are Central Americans. Many of them are refugees from El Salvador, and many cannot read or write. "Everything must be simplified," Janet Peralta said.
Since it sees so many recent immigrants, the clinic must cope with problems no longer common in the United States. "We've had cases of malaria, and parasites. And lots of dental problems," says Dr. Rosella Castro, one of the two staff doctors.
Alexandra Frerotte, who grew up in Argentina and completed her training here, says, "You have to help people adjust to the systems here. One doctor recently gave a woman a prescription for an antibiotic. He sent her to me so I could explain how to take it. I asked the woman if she understood what to do and she said no. I explained to her how much of the antibiotic to take, and when to take it.
"Finally, she said, 'I don't understand what you're saying. The doctor didn't give me any medicine, just this little piece of paper.' She didn't know what a prescription was."
Rosa (not her real name) is an attractive woman in her mid-thirties, with high cheekbones and hollow cheeks. She is slender but wiry. She came here from El Salvador two years ago with her husband and three children, wanting to escape such incidents as a full day spent hiding under beds while police and guerrillas had a shootout around and through her house.
Neighbors in Adams-Morgan told Rosa about the clinic when it came time to put her children, ages 11, 8 and 6, in school. "You need shots," they said, "and this clinic will give them."
That winter, coatless and used to a warmer climate, the children developed ear infections, and Rosa brought them back to the clinic. Her 8-year-old daughter developed a chronic infection and lost almost all of her hearing. An operation at Children's brought it back. The family borrowed money for the operation from a friend and is still paying it back.
Rosa's eyes glisten when she talks of what Children's did for her daughter. She knew of nowhere else to go, and without the clinic, her daughter would have gone untreated. Rosa still brings her children to the clinic when any of them has a problem.
"She is so strong," says Alexandra Frerotte. "She is working to hold this family together, and they are staying together."
In addition to routine pediatric care, both clinics offer nutrition counseling, classes in breastfeeding and a program called WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), which gives food coupons to teen-aged mothers, whose children are far more likely to develop illnesses before and after birth.
Both Tatia Smith, 20, now back at the clinic with her second pregnancy, and Tondaleia Torain, 16, are enrolled in the WIC program. "WIC helped me get the foods I really needed," Tatia said. Her first child, Carroll DeAndre, is 11 months old and has not had any significant health problems.
Lucille Taylor, the WIC program's office manager and a longtime resident of the 11th Street neighborhood, says young mothers tend to be caught in the same cycle. "It's always the same problem," Taylor said. "Not enough food, poor housing, not enough money to make ends meet."
But Taylor says that the clinic has made a difference. "People were oriented to crisis situations," she said. "They would go to the emergency room if something major was wrong, but never did follow-up visits. Now people do. Children receive regular checkups. It's really educated the community."
"They care about people's feelings here," says Tatia Smith. "They follow up well, and recommend you to the best outlets. The only way this clinic could get better is if it expanded across this universe."
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071. The campaign ends on Jan. 24.