Akron Children’s Hospital is one of the largest pediatric healthcare systems in the United States. Its staff handles nearly 850,000 patient visits a year at two hospital campuses and a large network of locations offering primary and specialty care. Since its founding by a group of volunteers 125 years ago, Akron Children’s has been committed to delivering family-centered, pediatric care and to upholding its three founding promises: 1) Treat others as we would like to be treated; 2) Treat every child as we would our own; and 3) Turn no child away for any reason.
That is exactly what one employee, Karen Ingram, patient service representative (PSR), has done. Three years ago, Ingram began collecting clothing for patients of Children’s Locust Pediatric Care Group. She stored her supplies in a closet in the medical office and opened it to families who needed extra support.
In 2014, Ingram’s colleagues wanted to recognize her work and surprised her by giving the closet an official name, Karen’s Closet, in her honor. With the help of Children’s President Bill Considine, they held a small ceremony and presented Ingram with a plaque.
“It’s a very well deserved recognition because Karen has made such a positive impact on the lives of these families,” said Considine.
Ingram’s dedication to her patients and their families goes well beyond simply attending to their medical needs. It is representative of Akron Children’s culture of caring and is a prime reason for the hospital’s selection as the recipient of the 2015 NorthCoast 99 Community Impact Award.
How it all began
Since Ingram started at Akron Children’s 36 years ago, she has witnessed many families coming through the hospital with less than enough to get by. The turning point for her was three years ago when she noticed a little boy, about 6 years old, walking outside in winter with shoes that were much too large for his small feet.
“We serve many refugee families, and we often noticed they lacked proper shoes or clothing. So I started asking other employees and our volunteer office for donations. As time went by, it just evolved,” Ingram said.
With the support of her manager Franklin Choate, operations supervisor at Locust Pediatrics, she was able to designate a small area to store the donations that come from hospital employees and families.
“When I saw what Karen was doing, it was unexpected for a doctor’s office. It’s not the traditional care model, but I thought, ‘Wow! Here is someone who truly understands the meaning of a caring relationship between a family and a care provider,’” said Choate.
“It’s not just me. It’s my whole office – the doctors, PSRs, social workers and everyone. If we have a family in need, it’s so rewarding to look through the closet and see what I can find for them. As long as I am here, I am going to keep doing it,” said Ingram.
When a great workplace and a great employee come together
Locust Pediatrics is a primary care practice that serves as a safety net in the community, serving many at-risk families with limited resources. Their patient population includes a large number of refugee families, many of whom don’t speak English, as well as children with medically complex, chronic conditions. Locust Pediatrics provides a wide array of services to support all the needs of this special population.
“This organization is about family-centered patient care. It’s not about bricks and mortar. Karen represents someone who cares about patients and people,” said Considine. “When I saw what she was doing, putting supplies in the closet and presenting them as gifts for others, it suggested to me that the real gift in all of this is Karen Ingram.”
“What stands out to me is that she tries to make it like any other shopping experience. It’s not viewed as a handout. She has done a great job making this a normal, safe environment where a child’s needs can be addressed,” said Choate.
“Karen truly represents service above self and unconditional care. She embodies the spirit of our hospital and our promises. She just really has one of the biggest hearts I have ever seen,” Choate added.
“Her example creates positive energy within our organization. It shows others that you can raise the bar, and you can go beyond your job description to truly make an impact on a family,” said Considine.
The people make the culture
“It’s been great to witness the growth of donations from people around the hospital. When it starts happening outside your immediate environment, that’s when you know you have made an impact. People are aware of the need and are providing resources to give our patient families what they need,” said Choate.
After visiting the staff at Akron Children’s, it was clear that they are all there because they want to really make an impact in the community. Children’s fosters a culture where anyone can dream up new ways to care for people and turn those dreams into reality. That’s exactly what Karen’s Closet does.
“We talk a lot about culture and strategy every day. You can have the best plan, but if your people don’t believe in it and take ownership of it, that plan is going to fail,” said Considine. “Culture is so important, and Karen energizes our culture. She represents the possibilities. That’s what makes it fun. When you can humanize the things you do on a day-to-day basis, it keeps you focused on the connections we have with the children and families we’re privileged to care for.”