Priceless Care for A Priceless Population

April 1, 2005

Have you ever been to a hospital that has no billing department? I have, when it was my distinct privilege to visit the Shriners Burns Hospital in Boston.

How did a person from New Jersey end up in a children’s hospital in Boston, and a really special hospital at that? Quite simply, a friend and brother Mason, John Sugden, asked me for a favor. John is a Boston banker and former volunteer firefighter/EMT in Dover. He serves on the Board of Fire Engineers for Dover and is an active community volunteer. John is now a member of the public relations committee for the Shriners Burns Hospital in Boston. John is also a dedicated Shriner and a man who never believes in doing anything in half-measure.

John asked me to go to Boston to help him with what seemed to me to be an odd problem. John told me that the staff members at the burn center were concerned that they were not seeing all of the patients who might benefit from their specialized burn care. The outstanding staff at this world-class burn facility knew that exercising their skills was a critical element in allowing them to maintain their life-and-death talents at peak condition. They want to get the word out that they stand ready to help children everywhere who may be in need of their specialized care.

Do not get the wrong idea. We don’t want you to go out and create new patients. What we would like you to do is become an advocate for the Shriners Burns Hospital. Many of you are in the front lines of emergency care in North America, and may have the opportunity to recommend a Shriners facility to a family in need of assistance during a time of devastating burn trauma to a child.

To get a better idea of what goes on at the facility, I traveled to Boston to meet with a number of staff members on the burn center team. This is the type of topic that I could just read about. I had to meet with the dedicated caregivers who labor valiantly each and every day to make a difference in the lives of their patients.

After meeting a half-dozen of the hospital’s key professionals, I am here to tell you that they live, breathe, eat and sleep teamwork. There appears to be a seamless interaction between the burn victim, the team and the victim’s family from the first moment a patient enters this facility. After visiting with these dedicated professionals, I came to the conclusion that this story was definitely not one that could have completed through telephone interviews.

I met with members of each aspect of the hospital’s health-care team. Let me stress to you that the word “team” is not strong enough to explain the bond that links these dedicated caregivers. From the doctors to the nurses to those in the areas of pharmacy and therapy, each person outlined his or her part of the overall team effort. It is not uncommon for the doctors and pharmacists to hold daily conferences to arrive at the best possible medication regimen for their young patients.

Dr. Rob Sheridan is the assistant chief of staff. He is a man on a true mission, and his love of his work is obvious from the moment you meet him. Sheridan developed his interest in burn injuries while serving with the U.S. Army. He took his specialty training at the world-famous burn center at Brookes Army Hospital in Texas.

Over the past decade, he has developed a deep and abiding love for his work. He loves working at the Boston Shriners Burns Hospital because of the high level of interest in the type of work being done, as well as its team approach to burn care. He told me that, “the team stays with the problem until it is solved.” Members of his staff continually warn him to stop giving out his cell phone number to patients and families. That speaks volumes regarding his dedication and commitment to his patients.

Long-term relationships abound in this medical center owing to the age and condition of the patients. The Shriners Burns Center admits children from infancy up to age 18. They are then monitored through the age of 21. In many cases, the treatment goes on over the course of many years. The interaction between staff, patient and family is an extremely intense and personal matter.

I was particularly impressed with the fact that a department was created to measure and assess the outcomes achieved by the burn patients. Michelle Hinson, who serves as outcomes coordinator, spoke of wanting to work in a facility that provides care independent of cost and knowing that everything that could be done to influence optimal outcomes was done. She suggested that perhaps the greatest thrill of working at Shriners came from her ability to watch a child pass through the many stages of the journey from burn to discharge and infancy through young adulthood.

It might be important to discuss burns for a moment. According to staff members, the most common mechanisms of injury are scalds and house fires for toddlers. An occasional contact burn may be seen, plus there are instances from other countries where burns occur as a result of retribution.

Patients for the Boston Shriners Burns Hospital are accepted from all around the world. That is where you come in. I know of a lot of good burn centers. However, I want you to know that Shriners is the best. Now, you might say to yourself, wouldn’t the people at every hospital tell a writer crafting a story on their hospital that theirs is the best? Perhaps. However, I want to assure you that the team-like manner in which the staff at this hospital works permeates every part of their approach to life.

Dr. Tim Keaney is the director of pharmacy. He explained an approach to pharmacy work that is unlike any other I have ever encountered. In most hospitals, the pharmacists work in the basement of the facility doling out drugs at the direction of the doctors. Not so at Shriners.

Keaney works as part of the team on the floors of the hospital. He makes rounds along with the physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners and therapists. Decisions on the proper course of medication are crafted by the team. Keaney told me that one of the great joys of his work involves being part of a team whose purpose revolves around the children being treated. He is part of an emerging generation of pharmacists that hold the doctor of pharmacy degree.

Kelly Greulich is the interim director of patient care. As such, she works to help create the approach used by the staff to care for their precious patients. She likes to work toward creating the best possible treatment environment for the children who pass through the doors of this special facility. She stressed to me that, “the whole family is part of the team, here at Shriners.” In this way, the staff is able to generate the greatest possible level of support for the young patients.

Kelly also mentioned many success stories that she had seen over the past several years. When pressed for the one that left the greatest impression on her, she spoke of a 9-month-old abuse victim recently treated by the team. The victim had arrived with massive burns, but thanks to their newest therapies the child was able to completely heal without any grafts. This happened as a result of the leading-edge research that is conducted at the Shriners Burns Hospital. It is important to stress that Shriners hospitals are the vanguard of research in such areas as burns, spinal cord injuries and orthopedics.

Over the years, the hospital has been in the forefront of advances in treatment for the burned child. The staff’s research continues to improve survival and promote the quick and complete recovery of the young burn patient. An important element of this revolves around the improvement of quality of life issues for burn survivors.

This is a perfect lead in to the time I spent with Lisa Donovan, a child life therapist at the hospital. Lisa loves watching the patients return to health. She loves working with them in the hospital’s playroom. Above all, she loves attending discharge parties. There is a party for each patient who is released after a protracted stay. More than all of this, Lisa is a burn victim. As a child, she was a patient in the Shriners Hospital. She loves being able to work in a place where she can “have a positive impact.”

Mary Jo Baryza is the director of therapeutic services. She is extremely proud of the work that her staff does in improving the quality of life for their young patients. She wanted me to tell the readers of this magazine that the staff at Shriners Burns Hospital has the skills and resources essential to put burn victims back into the world. She also wanted me to let you know that “we love our work and we are family.”

Mary Jo is also the one who helped me craft the title for this article. We were discussing the fact that the services of the Boston Shriners Burns Hospital come at no cost to the victim or their family. She mentioned that many people equate the concept of “free” with “not good.” She said that the best way to tell people about the work of the Shriners is to say that, “our care is set up to be priceless.”

Every member of the staff with whom I spoke said essentially the same things to me:

Perhaps the nicest story to emerge from my interviews involves a former patient who is getting married. Members of the staff with whom I spoke are going to be attending the wedding. They were invited to share in this happy moment.

It is also important for you to know that this love of the patient goes beyond the medical staff. I had the chance to speak with a fellow from food services. The man is a 26-year member of the hospital’s operating staff. He spoke with great pride of the satisfaction he gets from being sure that the children are all well fed and well taken care of.

While my visit dealt with the Shriners Burns Hospital, what I would like you to do is consider becoming a champion for the network of Shriners Hospitals for Children that stretches across North America. In a world of hospital care driven mad by a spiraling array of cost-related and cost-driven treatment, it is particularly pleasing to note that the great works at this facility exist through the philanthropic largess of the Shriners.

This story has a strong personal thrust for me. A friend of long standing, who is a fellow fire commissioner with me here in Adelphia and a brother from my Masonic lodge, has had a fabulous interaction with the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia. His daughter suffered nerve damage when she was born. After many years of treating at various places, she is now making great strides thanks to the medical team at that fine facility.

Who are the Shriners? The Shrine of North America is known for its colorful parades, circuses and clowns. But there is also a serious side to this international fraternity of approximately 500,000 men belonging to 191 Shrine Temples, or chapters, throughout North America. Since 1922, the Shrine has operated a network of specialized hospitals that treat children with orthopedic problems, burns and spinal cord injuries up to their 18th birthday, free of charge.

Shrine charities have been cited a number of times as the most efficient health charity in the United States. Since the first Shriners hospital opened in 1922, the Shrine has supported what has come to be known as the “World’s Greatest Philanthropy.” The Shrine and its 22 hospitals, while maintaining separate legal and financial identities, are linked through the Shrine’s continuing support of Shriners Hospitals for Children.

I would urge you to contact the Shriners to see if there is any way that you or your fire/EMS agency can be of help. As Sheridan said, “We exist. We need to make sure that you know we exist.”

For further information on the Shriners Burns Hospital for children, call 617-722-3000. For information on the Shriners Hospital network call 800-237-5055 in the U.S. and 800-361-7256 in Canada, or access the website at

Learn as much as you can. Your knowledge can make the difference during a critical life-and-death time when a quick trip to the Shriners Burns Hospital can make all the difference in the world.

Dr. Carter was so impressed with charitable the work of the staff at Shriners Burns Hospital in Boston that he entered the ranks of the Crescent Shrine in Trenton, NJ, on March 19. He is a Past Master of Wall-Spring Lake Lodge 73 F&AM.

Harry R. Carter, Ph.D., MIFireE, is a Firehouse® contributing editor. A municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ, he is a former president of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI). Dr. Carter is an associate professor at Mercer County Community College and a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. A fire commissioner for Howell Township District 2, he retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department in 1999 as a battalion commander. He also served as chief of training and commander of the Hazardous Materials Response Team. Dr. Carter is a Member of the Institution of Fire Engineers of Great Britain (MIFireE). You can contact him through his website at [email protected].

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