For many young patients arriving at the Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel, their only diversion from injury or illness was a television or a wall-mounted toy. Books, with their ability to transmit germs and infectious disease from one patient or another, were not allowed.
But all that's about to change.
Starting Thursday morning, every child entering the emergency room will be given their choice of an age-appropriate book to take home.
Dr. Susan Omura says the Read for Your Health program is a big improvement from doctors and nurses implicitly encouraging television as kids waited for test results or IV drips. With guidance from the national Reach Out and Read program, Omura and her staff are now able to provide not only healthcare, but educational assistance.
"We know that in the ER we see a lot of kids who don't get books anywhere else," she said. "Having books in your house increases literacy."
And literacy increases the chances a child will succeed in school, which decreases drop-out rates and ultimately helps people become more informed health care consumers, she says.
Jamie Rupp, nurse manager in the children's emergency department, says the books will help keep children occupied and make it easier for doctors to relate to their young patients. For many children coming to the hospital, the emergency department can be very intimidating. Now, a doctor and nurse will have a way to break the ice with a child before administering that tetanus shot or blood test.
"It promotes literacy, but it also makes the visit less scary," she said. "It's a way for the healthcare provider to build a rapport with the child."
Omura says everyone in the children's emergency department has been trained to teach parents how to read to their children and engage the young readers to ask what they've learned.
Rupp sees the book program as an extension of the services the hospital provides to the public. With many inexperienced parents, slight changes in their child's health or demeanor can send them to the emergency room to make sure everything's alright.
"Oftentimes they just need reassurance, to be told that everything's ok, you're doing everything right," she said.
With donations from U.S. Bank, Safeway and Northwest Natural, Legacy Emanuel estimates they will be handing out around 20,000 books in the coming year. The books will come from Scholastic and feature a wide variety of titles for all ages and cultures. There will even be a number of Spanish language books.
In addition, Legacy also gives out books through their Reach Out and Read program, which targets a population with high social and economic needs. The hospital has distributed nearly 10,000 books at wellness visits since the program began in 2002.
Legacy Emanuel will launch the new program on Thursday, March 18 at 10:30 a.m. at the The Children's Hospital at Legacy Emanuel, 2801 N. Gantenbein Ave. in Portland.