This year, the Office of Child Advocacy (OCA) created two new positions to help the hospital better reach all members of its community. Christopher Sumner, was hired as director of Community Outreach, in February, while Deb Dickerson, director of Community Health Initiatives, joined Children's Hospital Boston in June. Both of them have extensive community relations experience and are tackling the hospital's community outreach, asthma, nutrition and fitness, mental health and injury prevention programs head on. They took a minute to talk about their roles and the importance of Children's outreach efforts.
What responsibilities does your job entail?
Sumner: I'm one of many representatives for the hospital within the community. I work both internally and externally on community outreach strategies to support partnership and collaborative relationships that the hospital has in the community. I ensure the community outreach strategies we develop support the hospital's overall strategic plan by looking at community-based and faith- based relationships, polling people, shadowing programs, and attending community town meetings to hear from the community and educate them on what the hospital offers.
Dickerson: My role is to provide support to the existing community health programs that focus on asthma, mental health, fitness and nutrition and injury prevention. I hope to use my expertise to help all of the programs achieve the goal of being fundable, marketable and replicable.
What are you most looking forward to in your
Sumner: I'm most excited about getting the community more involved with advocacy and connecting them to resources. I'm also excited about being a part of helping families advocate for their own health.
Dickerson: I'm excited about being a part of this institution and the opportunities ahead of me. I'm very excited to work with colleagues to bring existing programs to another level. I feel like I've come on board at the right time, since there's a lot going on and there's a lot of appreciation for the work getting done in this department.
What made you want to work in this position in the OCA?
Sumner: I was born and bred in Boston, so I thought this would be a good fit for me. I think the community is missing out on some opportunities that the hospital has available. One of my greatest strengths is the ability to convene people in organizations and I think my leadership skills within the hospital and my teamwork with the community could foster a greater understanding on both ends.
Dickerson: I'm a social worker by training and I have a combination of for-profit and not-for-profit experience. I've always wanted to work in a health care setting because I find the environment to be very stimulating, but I never knew what position would be appropriate.
What do the hospital and community need to do in order to have the best relationship?
Sumner: There's a lot of learning that needs to happen. I think the gap can be filled by coming up with a methodology that helps the community access health in a more effective way. We need to continually earn the respect of the community as we work collaboratively. We need to address trust. A lot of that is a two-way street, and there really needs to be some capacity building and technical support on both ends to ensure that families have health care and will access it in a preventive way rather than wait for an emergency. We want to make sure families have the knowledge and tools necessary to navigate the health care system.
Dickerson: Many families don't have access to health care and lack the ability to advocate for themselves and their children to ensure they get the care they need. I'm a believer that you don't need to go into a community and tell them what's best for them, but you should listen to their needs. Then, if you can take that information and do something with it, you'll be helping.
What are some of your plans?
Sumner: I plan on learning and understanding how a hospital of this size serves this community, and enhancing our relationship with the community that the hospital dearly loves. I think you do that by serving the community on their terms by being at the
forefront of the issues they are dealing with and using the hospitals' credibility to make changes so families can live in a safe and healthy community.
Dickerson: If we can develop programs so children can have better access to resources, we can help them have better lives. I think we need to address what kids really need and give them positive things to get involved with in order to help them understand that they don't need to turn to violence to be empowered. We can help them understand that they can get a good education, get a good job, take better care of themselves and live better lives. We can give them hope for the future.