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Chantel Cooper | The Children’s Hospital Trust

In a world afflicted by disasters, diseases, pandemic and warfare, the significance of healthcare has become immeasurable, becoming even more of a necessity along with food, clothing, and shelter.

For children especially, comprehensive and quality healthcare is essential for their survival, and also so they may thrive into their full potential and make a meaningful contribution to society.

This edition, the Top 10 Child Care Hospitals in 2021, emphasizes this necessity and highlights those healthcare institutions and organizations who strive ceaselessly to deliver comprehensive and quality care to our children.

About The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital

At the forefront of specialist child healthcare in Southern Africa is the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. Built in 1956, the Hospital is the largest, stand-alone tertiary hospital in sub-Saharan Africa, dedicated entirely to children, and manages 250,000 patient visits each year. Most of these patients come from poor and vulnerable communities from across all nine provinces of South Africa and all over Africa.

The Hospital has active paediatric outreach and support programmes for district and primary care facilities and is regarded as South Africa’s leading centre for postgraduate specialist paediatric, medical, and surgical training and research.

The Hospital is fortunate to have the support of The Children’s Hospital Trust, a non-profit organization established in 1994 to raise funds to help advance child healthcare through the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Working in partnership with the Western Cape Department of Health, UCT Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, and the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital management, the Trust has invested over R1 billion since inception towards improving public health infrastructure, training specialist paediatric health workers, and supporting the establishment of child public healthcare projects.

The Trust relies on the benevolence of donors to realise its aims and objectives. 100% of all donations go directly to the Hospital and prioritised paediatric healthcare needs and not a single cent is spent on administration costs. The Trust has a longstanding record of sound financial administration and good governance, but whilst it has raised funds to address many pressing needs, much has yet to be done.

The Epitome of Empathy and Care

“At the Children’s Hospital Trust, we value integrity, collaboration, accountability, kindness and being dynamic in everything we do,” says Chantel Cooper, CEO of The Children’s Hospital Trust.

Chantel joined the Children’s Hospital Trust in 2013 as the Head of Fundraising and Communication and was appointed as CEO in 2019. For her, 2020 was a year that helped her understand perspective and reinforced the importance of why the Trust exists and the difference they want to make in the lives of children. “Our cause is driven by the need to make a difference in the lives of sick and injured children. We are people who work together to save the lives of children matter. We all have a purpose!” she says.

Sharing excerpts from her journey, Chantel says:

“My purpose in life is to serve those who are most vulnerable: women and children. My career was driven by my passion to make a real difference in the lives of women and children. When I was 18 years old, I volunteered for an organization who provided support for women who had been raped. While volunteering, I started working with women in rural areas in the Eastern Cape where we found opportunities to grow their businesses.

“My passion for women led me to Cape Town where I became Director of Rape Crisis Cape Town when I was 27 years old. After giving birth to two children, I moved to an organization called St Joseph’s Home for Chronically Ill Children. St Joseph’s is a step-down facility for tertiary hospitals like the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. It was a profound move for me as I was able to work with children who inspired me.

“The children at St Joseph’s are from impoverished communities and some have been abandoned by parents who should have been there to provide the love, care and guidance that every child needs. St Joseph’s not only provided an environment that provided excellent medical support, but they also ensured that children were taken to the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital for doctor appointments and that they were able to attend school and play in an environment filled with love and care.

“One of the most valuable lessons I learnt is the power of love. You can offer a child the best healthcare in the world, but what a child wants most is their parent to love them and be by their side. This is the value I most appreciate about the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital. This hospital believes in child-centred care and knows that a child heals when their parent or caregiver is by their side – even during the COVID-19 pandemic. All other hospitals had restricted access to patients, but the presence of a parent is imperative to their sick or injured child’s healing.”

Overcoming Adversities

We asked Chantel about the challenges that The Children’s Hospital Trust faced during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic taught our team that life can change in a blink of an eye and that we need to be prepared for all possibilities. The pandemic hit the world with such speed and velocity that we had no choice but to find a way to not only sail through the storm, but also find ways to get out of the situation stronger than before.”

Chantel also states that 2020 provided the Children’s Hospital Trust with the opportunity to learn extraordinary lessons that they would not have normally had the opportunity to learn and some of these include:

  • The value of deep listening and the importance of demonstrating kindness.
  • Working in collaboration created the opportunity for meaningful impact for our beneficiaries.
  • Opportunities do exist during challenging times; positivity exposed the opportunities.
  • Adapting to change during uncertain times helped to build a resilient team.

“Our Trust team demonstrated ingenuity, compassion, resilience, commitment, and fortitude during a very difficult time. As a result, we surpassed our goals, and this enabled our organization to reach more children and families. We are grateful for the contribution from every individual,” adds Chantel.

“Walking through the corridors of a children’s hospital during a crisis gives perspective on the real value of care, kindness, and collaboration. While children were not the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Social Work Department experienced first-hand the profound impact the pandemic had on children’s health and well-being.

“Unemployment, food insecurity, child safety and schooling were common concerns for many patients and their parents who entered the doors of the Hospital. The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital values patient and family-centred care which includes care for the whole family from a holistic perspective.

“In response to the needs of the families, the Trust secured funding to enable the social workers to provide additional counselling services and material support such as the provision of food, hygiene, and home-schooling supplies to vulnerable families when children were discharged from the Hospital.

“In addition, with generous support from donors, the Trust was able to support the COVID-19 Response Plan which helped enhance the safety of staff, patients and their families at the height of the pandemic. The predominantly adult-centred approach to COVID-19 has meant that the impact of the pandemic on South Africa’s children was not anticipated.

“Public and private stakeholders have the responsibility and opportunity to learn lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure that the voices of children are central to decisions that affect them directly and indirectly. Access to healthcare is critical to the future health of children in our country.”

The Virtue of Compassion

We asked Chantel what advice she would impart to budding healthcare professionals. She said, “I am fortunate to be able to meet inspiring people across Africa. The Children’s Hospital Trust raises funds for a project that creates a platform for improving child healthcare throughout Africa. The African Paediatric Fellowship Programme (APFP) builds a specialist paediatric clinical workforce, research and training capacity across Sub-Saharan Africa.

“Initiated by the University of Cape Town, in partnership with the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, APFP provides relevant training for African child health professionals by Africa, in Africa. The project confirms that Africa has 24% of the global disease burden but only 3% of the world’s health workers. Critically, there is fewer than 1 paediatrician per 100,000 children in sub-Saharan Africa compared to 99 per 100,000 in the USA. As these child health leaders return to their countries, they ensure that they represent the voices of children to ensure that they have access to health care.

“We can learn from these Fellows who aspire to change their systems against all odds. The Fellow who started a child focused cancer unit. The Fellow who started a vaccination body that included East and West Africa as far too many children in Africa are dying from preventable diseases. Through collaboration, commitment and support, change happens. Growing children are unique, and their needs are different to adults. As leaders, we need to ensure that all children can access healthcare that focuses on their needs.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we cannot lose sight of what children need as they grow up to become adults; they are the future generation. Let us use these lessons and work together to ensure that we as leaders continue to build the platform for improved child healthcare for those who need it the most,” adds Chantel.

Redefining Excellence

For the Children’s Hospital Trust, it is not about awards and recognition. The Trust has invested over R1 billion of donated funds since inception, including the training for over 600 healthcare workers from Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Trust raises funds for the upgrade and expansion of the Hospital’s buildings, the purchase of state-of-the-art medical equipment, new medical treatment projects and funds the training of medical professionals across Africa – ensuring that the Hospital not only retains its world-class stature but is able to continue providing life-changing and life-saving care for children.

The Trust relies on donations in order to fund these needs. When you donate to the Trust, 100% of your donation goes towards funding projects that change children’s lives (and the lives of the people who love them). The operational costs of the Trust are funded from an endowment, so your generous contributions are never used to cover administration costs.

Since April 2019, the Trust has been actively raising funds for the upgrade and expansion of the current Emergency Centre. The project is being delivered in two phases, with phase 1 completed in October 2020, and phase 2 on 31 January 2022. The upgrade and expansion will improve personalised care and flow of patients and healthcare professionals through the extremely busy frontline of the Hospital.

All spaces have been designed with the comfort and safety of young patients in mind. Despite the pressures and inconvenience of construction in progress, Emergency Centre staff have been committed to maintaining the high standard of care needed to minimise hospitalisation and ensuring that the children return home to their families without delay. So far, R120 million has been raised, which means that they are only R2 million away from their goal.

The African Paediatric Fellowship Programme (APFP) saw 16 Fellows complete their training in 2020, bringing the total number of alumni since the start of the programme in 2007, to 131. 92% of alumni are still working in Africa, a testament to the robustness of the programme’s approaches to building capacity for Africa.

The Weekend Waiting List Initiative (WWLI) has been running as an annual project since 2011. The Initiative was established to address the protracted waiting list by adding an additional day of surgeries (Saturday) to the hospital’s operating schedule. By reducing the large volumes of relatively minor cases, more scope and flexibility are provided for more complex cases to be attended to during the week.

During 2020, with most elective surgeries cancelled in the first half of the year due to the pandemic, it was estimated that it will take up to two years to catch up the additional surgical backlog these delays have caused. Resuming in July 2020, the WWLI was therefore central to the Hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What 2020 also brought to light, was food insecurity. Many children were not receiving regular food due to COVID-19-related job losses and ongoing poverty issues. Through the Trust and its donors, snack packs were provided to parents and children whilst waiting for appointments, and food parcels and care packages were provided to vulnerable families upon discharge. Transport funds have also been provided to ensure children are able to attend treatment and follow-up appointments,” Chantel expressed.

Creating the Silver Lining

Talking about her vision for scaling The Children’s Hospital Trust’s operations in 2021 and beyond, Chantel says, “The benefit of a dedicated children’s hospital is that children receive specialised care through multi-disciplinary teams that focus on holistic care where the child is seen as more than just another patient. The focus is on providing specialised care for that child and their family to ensure that they can take care of their child when discharged from the care of the hospital.

“Not all children are safe in their families and the social workers work in partnership with the clinical team to ensure that the safety and the needs of the children come first. There are adults in a children’s hospital who are ready to be a voice for children who are not able to speak for themselves.

“The Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital is a tertiary hospital that provides internationally recognised specialist care for children. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an average of 250,000 (two hundred and fifty thousand) patient visits every year with 45,000 children coming through the Emergency Centre. The Children’s Hospital Trust has a vision to ensure that all children, no matter where they were born, have access to high quality, accessible healthcare.

“We are currently assessing the child healthcare system to determine where we can make the most difference to ensure that we achieve our vision. We are doing this through collaboration with various public and private stakeholders who believe in the same vision for child healthcare. Supporting other health facilities in communities that the Red Cross War Memorial Hospital serves, will help alleviate the pressure on the Hospital. We want to ensure that a mother who needs to rush her critically ill or injured child to a nearby health facility that can save the life of her child, is able to do so safely and quickly.

“While we were all trying to make sense of what was happening, generous donors continued to support our beneficiaries. We would not be able to make the difference we do without the loyal support from our donors. We are deeply grateful for their belief in our cause and the change brought about by donations is not only visible, but also felt by all staff, patients, and their families, and impact lives for years to come.

“We thank them for walking the journey with us, and even though we are operating in a different reality, we remain committed to our purpose of ensuring high quality, accessible child healthcare through sustainable funding. Every child deserves access to healthcare so that they can grow up to live their dreams. Every little one counts,” concludes Chantel.