There was a time in previous generations when admitting a child into the hospital had more in common to the severed ties that today’s sleep away camp brings. “That has really changed to a model where we really try to put the patient and the family at the center of the care,” says, Gerard Villucci, Senior Vice President for Administration at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. But the center’s Maria Fareri Children’s hospital truly goes quite a distance toward providing a nurturing environment that would be hard to match anywhere.
Making the approach to something as unpleasant as a hospital stay,children will be uplifted by sight of a retro helicopter or the real locomotive that seems to grow right out of the hospital walls. They’ll likely scoot past the miniature golf course but that’s always available at a later date with some settling in.
Moving into the lobby, a look up will find Sponge Bob trapezing across the ceiling, while eye level excitement comes of the oversized aquarium and an original clock from FAO Schwartz. Going deeper towards an uncertainty like a hospital stay, gets proportionally palpable as they get closer to their temporary home away from home.
Maria Fareri’s History of New York Baseball Exhibit and one of the largest doll collections in the world will respectively strike boys and girls and Dads and Moms, but crossovers certainly occur and are encouraged. The greatest thing is to walk through the lobby of any of these areas or exhibits and see children with a sibling or with a parent – just enjoying and watching, says Mr. Villucci.
This he relays as not only an administrator but as a parent. Recently, his three year old son sustained a cut over his eye that required a set of stitches and a trip to the emergency room. Scared as he or any child should be, any memories of fear were knocked out of the park upon seeing the baseball collection, which came mostly from the initiative and collection of former New York Yankee, David Cone. Still talking about something that most children would probably want to forget, he says, “He now calls it my hospital.”
Most importantly, any future trips to the hospital will be much freer of unfounded fear, and the same goes for children who would gravitate towards the doll collection. Originating, as a fundraising initiative in associated with dollhouse donations,the hospital rung up the good will and came away with a room full of houses. “A doll collector with this enormous, impressive collection of dolls heard about the doll houses, and said, ‘if you have dollhouses then you need dolls,’” he says.
Certainly, though, none of this is a substitute for dedicated staff and state of the art technology, but it doesn’t take either to know that a healthy mind goes a long way to making the body feel better. By having distractions and stress relieving experiences such as these, he says, “This healing environment contributes to children getting better.”
The experiences don’t stop at the elevators either with a simulated yacht deck, computer center and a mock up fire truck, but all these amenities may pale in comparison when the exhibits walk in on two legs. Former New York Ranger and Islander Pat LaFontaine is a frequent visitor with his “Companions in Courage Center” – and a visit from the Stanley Cup is expected soon.
Madison Square Garden and its “Garden of Dreams” program is a major partner in the well being of the hospital and its children. Whether it’s New York Knicks, Rangers or Liberty, they often show up without any press release or media call. For instance, says Director of Communications Andrew LaGuardia, “Adam Graves often calls and says he wants to come over and he just comes over.”
Of course, if sport isn’t their thing, Maria Fareri has quite a track record of attracting a wide variety of talent and celebrity. The arts aren’t forgotten either. The children have access to an art studio and a roving art therapist. In addition, the hospital’s foundation makes sure that children can experience and learn from all variety of art displays and exhibits.
In the end, there’s plenty of generosity that Westchester Medical Center is grateful to acknowledge. A lot of great people have made a difference to a wonderful place to contribute, he concludes.