By Sophia Chang
Assistant Director Ki-young Seo and Congresswomen Kyung Won Na and Seon Mi Kim of the country's single-body legislature, the National Assembly, toured the hospital's Bayside facilities at 29-01 216th St. They were accompanied by Jihee Kim, the New York consulate general, and interpreter Wan-Soo Seo. The congresswomen are involved with health policy in Korea, particularly in terms of disabled care, Jihee Kim said.The politicians were prompted to visit St. Mary's after hearing of a Korean Consulate staff member's experience with a family member at the hospital.”We are flattered that you would pick St. Mary's as a place to visit,” said Dr. Burton Grebin, president of the hospital. He presented the hospital's slate of services, which serves children with serious or terminal illnesses through medical, emotional, spiritual and educational avenues. The hospital is noted for its palliative care, minimizing the pain and discomfort of mortally ill children. “We understand that we can't fix every problem, and we can't make every child better,” Grebin said. “But we can make them comfortable, and alleviate their pain.”Grebin also spoke about St. Mary's extensive home care programs that enable children to stay with their families rather than entering as hospital in-patients. He estimated that several thousand children are served daily by the home care programs, while the hospital's physical facilities can only accommodate 97 children.”The way of the future of health care is outside,” he said, while the lawmakers nodded. “Children do best with their families. They heal quicker. And the overall cost is less expensive at home than it is here.”Because St. Mary's launched the first palliative care program for terminally ill children, many international hospitals and governments have sent representatives to visit the hospital, Grebin said, including delegations from Japan, China, England and Australia. “They have set up some or all of the services we have, and we know this is a replicable model,” he said. “It's a matter of determining resources you need, and how to find money for it.” Seon Mi Kim was interested in the hospital's education program, which provides schooling for children at the hospital. “It's the law in this country that every child receives a free, fair education,” said Mark Hoffacker, St. Mary's advocacy manager.During the brief tour of the hospital, the visitors stopped by the toddler room and smiled at a young patient posing for pictures. In the nursery, they were visibly moved by the babies, most premature and tiny, hooked up to multiple tubes.”Children are children. Families are families,” Grebin said. “These problems are universal. It's not a matter of ethnic background. We're all human beings.”Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.