United Hospital Fund Fellows Tackle Disparities on the Frontlines of Pediatric Care

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

United Hospital Fund Fellows Tackle Disparities on the Frontlines of Pediatric Care

Eight graduates of United Hospital Fund’s PEDS Network Fellowship are tackling a wide range of equity issues on the frontlines of pediatric care, including early childhood literacy, food insecurity, gaps in breastfeeding support, and improving pediatric dental health.  

Projects focused on these and other issues were presented at a graduation ceremony held June 15 for the fellowship, which is part of UHF’s Pediatrics for an Equitable Developmental Start (PEDS) Learning Network. The 2022-2023 class of fellows are the second cohort to graduate from the 15-month program. 

“This second PEDS Network Fellowship cohort includes eight passionate and steadfast individuals committed to reducing health disparities and increasing equitable care for their patients,” said PEDS Network leader and UHF senior program manager Susan Olivera. “Their eight practice improvement projects represent five counties across New York state...and have touched at least 5,000 children and families throughout the fellowship.” 

The graduation ceremony, hosted at UHF’s office, also included presentations from fellowship mentors Elizabeth A. Isakson, MD, FAAP, executive director of Docs for Tots, and Andrew Aligne, MD, MPH, executive director of the Hoekelman Center at University of Rochester Medical Center. 

Supported by the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, the PEDS Network Fellowship aims to develop the next generation of clinical leaders committed to transforming pediatric primary care in ways that will improve early childhood development and reduce health disparities. 


Here’s a closer look at the eight fellows and their practice improvement projects: 

Karina Vattana, MD, FAAP 

Pathway Pediatrics, Trillium Health in Rochester 

Recognizing equity gaps in breast/chest feeding initiation—exacerbated by shorter hospital stays due to the pandemic—Dr. Vattana spearheaded opening a free drop-in breast/chest feeding support group known as “Baby Café" at Trillium Health that will focus on reaching minority and diverse families. Through collaboration with three existing Baby Café locations, a $850,000 grant was secured to fund the four Rochester sites. 

Nicole Delgado-Salisbury, Ed.D.  
Saint Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers 

Dr. Delgado-Salisbury's project will bring the research-driven program Reach Out and Read to Saint Joseph’s Medical Center. The intervention—which provides children with books during pediatric check-ups—will also include a bookmark with information about developmental milestones, a “prescription” for parents to read aloud with their children, and future reading-focused events. 

Jena Burgner, DO  
Albany Medical Center 

After noticing that 12 percent of families identified by a social needs screening were in need of child care and early education services, Dr. Burgner cultivated a partnership with local child care referral agency Brightside Up. So far, the partnership has sent 35 families to the referral agency and identified four additional families to refer to Infant & Toddler Mental Health Consultation (ITMHC) services.   

Jisha Jacob, MD  
NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx  

With the goal of helping parents address development or behavioral concerns, Dr. Jacobs identified an existing but underutilized partnership between NYC Health + Hospitals and nonprofit Power of Two. Her project has dramatically increased referrals to the organization, which offers free parent coaching sessions and other services, from zero to 186 in one year—the most of any Health + Hospitals site. NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx has since shared its approach with other hospitals in the system. 

Talia A. Roth, MD  
NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx  

Dr. Roth’s project aims to better connect the 15 percent of families at her facility who experience food insecurity to food pantries, The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and other services, while increasing awareness about healthy infant feeding behaviors. She created a “First Feeding Guidelines” pamphlet and set up healthy cooking demonstration events with Grow NYC Farmstand. 

Beija Vasquez, MSW  
Open Door Family Medical Center in Ossining 

Beija Vasquez noticed families at her pediatric clinic did not understand the importance of caring for their child’s “baby teeth” with dental visits. Through a partnership with Open Door’s dental department, found in the same building, she set up a workflow to sign families up for a dental checkup the same day as their pediatric visit. The project also included goody bags with information on caring for infant and toddler teeth and working with the Women’s Health Department to start dental health education before birth. 

Rachel Stein Berman, MD, MPH, FAAP 
Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center 

Recognizing voting as a social determinant of health, Dr. Berman set out to increase civic engagement and voter registration among caregivers and patients when they reach 18 years of age. Her project created a new workflow where social workers would talk with patients about voting and help them register, understand their eligibility, and find information about upcoming elections. 

Geri Lynn Galotti, MD  
Stony Brook Children’s on Long Island 

Dr. Galotti sought to better connect Stony Brook patients—half of whom are on Medicaid—to The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Her project included identifying eligible patients during pre-visit planning, adding WIC forms to the patient's medical record, and adding fliers to waiting and exam rooms. The local WIC branch noted an increase in referrals during the project. 

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