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Stanford Medicine launches Office of Child Health Equity

Pediatrician Lisa Chamberlain will lead a new office that promotes pediatric health equity via research, community engagement and health policy.

- By Erin Digitale

The Department of Pediatrics new Office of Child Health Equity was created to help ensure that all children have access to quality health care, education, food and other necessities.
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

A team of Stanford pediatricians is launching an Office of Child Health Equity within the School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, with the goal of reducing childhood health disparities locally, statewide and nationally.

The office is being formed in response to growing inequities in children’s health, according to leaders in pediatrics at Stanford.

“We believe that pediatricians should be at the forefront of promoting health equity,” said Mary Leonard, MD, professor of pediatrics and of medicine, who holds the Arline and Pete Harman Professorship for the Chair of the Department of Pediatrics.

“Inequities exist in every aspect of a child’s environment, including the quality of their schools, the air they breathe, the water they drink and their access to health care — all with lifelong implications,” Leonard said. “The Department of Pediatrics prioritizes health equity as a core value and part of our mission.”

Children and families, especially those who are low-income and nonwhite, face a variety of new and worsening health challenges, said Lisa Chamberlain, MD, professor of pediatrics, who will lead the new office. Children are enduring more food insecurity and homelessness as a result of COVID-19 job losses, and reduced access to playgrounds and sports programs may have contributed to a rise in childhood obesity over the past 18 months. As climate change fuels a longer and more intense wildfire season, children in poorer households and school districts are more likely to be exposed to unfiltered, smoky air that exacerbates asthma. Research also shows that children with public health insurance often receive lower quality medical care than kids who are privately insured.

Chamberlain is the department’s associate chair of policy and community engagement and led the Pediatric Advocacy Program, a joint effort of the School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, that she founded more than 20 years ago. The new office will build on the program’s work and greatly increase the scope of activities, with permanent staff and plans to involve pediatricians from every subspecialty at Stanford Children’s Health.

Lisa Chamberlain

The Department of Pediatrics is funding the office. In addition, the Stanford Maternal and Child Health Research Institute is contributing $350,000 through its “Structural Racism, Social Injustice and Health Disparities in Maternal and Child Health” pilot grant program. Ten research projects will be selected for funding.

 “Dr. Chamberlain’s proven track record with health equity interventions, community engagement and advocacy make her ideally suited to lead this new office,” Leonard said.       

Three-pronged approach

The new office will promote child and maternal health equity by advocating for families in the community, advancing policy changes and supporting research into health inequities.

One new goal is ensuring that research findings on child health inequities are consistently translated into better health policy, Chamberlain said.

“I think it’s inadequate that we don’t know how often health policy is changed because of the scientific evidence we generate with our research,” she said. “We should hold ourselves more accountable to that.”

Pediatricians will partner with government relations officials at Stanford Children’s Health to work with city councils, school boards and other groups that have an interest in improving children’s health, Chamberlain said. “We are taking the partnership between the hospital and the department to a new level to improve how we engage with local elected officials,” she said.

Another goal for the office is to reduce health inequities among patients with complex medical needs, such as children receiving subspecialty care through Stanford Children’s Health. For example, research by Stanford pediatric gastroenterology and endocrinology specialists has shown that children with different types of health insurance have unequal access to diabetes treatment technology, and the team is now identifying strategies to make the latest treatment devices accessible to all patients.

Pediatricians are motivated to make sure their patients can all get the best care, Chamberlain said, adding that she is excited about opportunities to work with physicians from across Stanford Children’s Health.

“As a physician, if you treat one patient one way and one another, you know that’s not just,” she said. “That is a source of burnout and frustration. There are things we can do about it.”

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at http://mednews.stanford.edu.

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