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Hardship and Hope

No Credit

I’m a pediatrician, a clinic doc. I work at MetroHealth Medical Center, the public hospital in Cleveland. Mostly, I see children with runny noses and failing grades, parents with long workdays and short paychecks.

Today I saw something new and remarkable.  A public library opened a branch right in the center of the hospital.

Two things about this: first, a lot of communities don’t even have public hospitals any more.  They’ve closed their doors; gone the way of the dodo. Second, Cleveland is cash-poor and jobs-poor.  These last two years, our biggest business seems to be foreclosures.

So, it’s something to see a new, sparkly space open up, filled with books and videos and computer terminals, right there in the middle of our hospital.  It says something about our city that it sees to it that culture and learning have a place within the center of health and healing.

But what’s this have to do with children? A lot, as it turns out.  For me, and tens of  thousands of other pediatricians and family doctors around the country, books and reading constitute a core component of health care.  As followers of the Reach Out and Read model, we make support for literacy part of each health supervision visit, starting at 6 months if not before.  We believe that children need to grow up with a love of books, in order to be truly healthy. And the people who can best nurture that love are, naturally, the parents.

This is true for all children, but especially for children growing up without economic advantages. For them, a love of books, planted early and watered regularly, can be the crucial beanstalk leading to a brighter future. It’s our role and privilege, as doctors, to help plant that seed and help it to grow.

So, you see, a library that springs up in a public hospital in Cleveland is something to notice. It’s a sign that we – the doctors, the hospital, the city – get it. We get that health and literacy are two strands of the same rope, intertwined, lifting our children from hardship to hope.

Robert Needlman, M.D., F.A.A.P. is the co-founder of Reach Out and Read and has published studies on early literacy promotion.  He is also a member of the Mom Congress Advisory Board.

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