$1 million gift helps grow GHS pediatric complex-care center

GREENVILLE, SC (Dec. 8, 2015) – A $1 million gift from pioneering neonatal physician Dr. Jerry Ferlauto and wife Natalina will endow and grow an innovative program to help families better cope with the exceptionally complex and round-the-clock needs of chronically ill children.

The fledgling center, part of Greenville Health System Children’s Hospital, opened in April 2014. The $1 million endowment will ensure that the program, considered a vital lifeline by its families, has a secure long-term future and can meet the growing need in the community.

“Advances in medicine and technology have allowed children with complex disorders to live far longer than once possible with far more productive lives,” said Dr. Ferlauto. “But these complex illnesses, which are often clustered with other problems, require intensive support and extremely close medical management to help ensure children stay well.” Typical patient diagnoses range from cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease to genetic disorders, severe developmental delays and seizure disorders.

“Imagine what it’s like for the average family juggling everyday challenges. Now imagine what it’s like for these complex-care families, where everyday challenges may include every four-hour tube feedings, grueling medicine schedules and virtually non-stop care  – and that doesn’t include multiple medical appointments with multiple specialists, therapy appointments and frequent discussions with home health agencies, home equipment vendors and insurance companies. It can easily become overwhelming.”

The Ferlauto Center for Complex Pediatric Care will provide primary medical care but also emphasize care coordination, social services and nutrition services through a team-oriented, family-centered approach. The goal is for families to see the same pediatrician each visit, which helps ensure continuity of care. The pediatrician will partner with a team of care coordinators, nurses, dietitians and social workers to ensure that children receive the medical care and support needed to thrive in their home settings. This support includes helping families schedule visits to multiple specialists – and ideally doing this so appointments are clustered together and in a single location.  Future plans include telephone support and long-term case management to assist with on-going questions and minor crises.

By using this coordinated approach, the center can significantly improve health outcomes but also reduce family stress. It will help reduce medical costs by staying ahead of complications and crises, thereby avoiding unnecessary and expensive emergency room visits or hospitalization.

“The Ferlauto Center’s job is not to take the place of the specialists but to provide the primary medical care, coordination of care and to try to fill in potential gaps in care,” said Kent Jones, M.D., the center’s medical director.

“Our hope is that we can significantly strengthen family support by providing parents, siblings, grandparents and friends with a coordinated network of services which allow them  to better cope with the ‘rollercoaster ride’ of illnesses,” said Ferlauto.

One of the first neonatal intensive care doctors in the state, Ferlauto has spent most of his career caring for children with special and complex needs. “For my wife and myself, there wasn’t any question of how we wanted to invest our money. These children and families are extraordinary, and we wanted to help ensure they continue to receive the medical care and broader support they need regardless of socioeconomic status,” he said.

“I’ve always had a special connection with these children. I want to provide the support they need – and continue that long after I’ve retired from medicine,” Ferlauto said.

Jones, who trained with Ferlauto 35 years ago, said Ferlauto always knew “his patients needed more than just great care while in his nursery. He understood that their outcome also depended on their treatment before and after their time with him. Even then, Dr. Ferlauto had a vision that each complex child needed the kind of ongoing comprehensive and coordinated care that we seek to make the hallmark of this new program.”

George F. Maynard III, GHS’ vice president of institutional advancement, said endowment gifts assure GHS has the ability to support highly intensive care programs. “Endowment is so important to the future of our continued ability to serve our present and future patients and their families who require extraordinary care,” said Maynard.

Medically fragile children represent one of the most rapidly growing sectors of the pediatric population. They are frequently dependent on intensive medical technology like ventilators, supplemental oxygen, feeding tubes and wheelchairs and require intensive long-term physical, occupational and speech therapies. According to the Children’s Hospital Association, their ranks now number approximately three million in the U.S. alone.

“We are extremely grateful to Dr. Ferlauto, his wife Natalina and family for their generosity and long-term vision in endowing the Ferlauto Center for Complex Pediatric Care,” said Children’s Hospital Medical Director Dr. William F. Schmidt III, MD, PhD. “Dr. Ferlauto has devoted his entire professional life to Children’s Hospital, starting as our first medical director of the neonatal intensive care unit. Throughout, he has been a passionate and devoted advocate for children, continually initiating new programs that benefit NICU babies and graduates. And, lucky for the children we serve, that life-long commitment to kids shows no signs of letting up. We are deeply indebted to the Ferlauto family for their contribution that will significantly improve the lives of medically complex children for years to come.”

Plans are already in the works to incorporate a resident education component into the program with the hope of raising a new generation of pediatric complex care physicians.

“We’re proud of the start we’ve made, but more needs to be done,” said Ferlauto. “We hope our gift will spark additional gifts from the Upstate community.”

For more information on giving, visit ghsgiving.org.

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