Doctors provide professional, financial support for children’s advocacy center

As an orthopedic specialist, Dr. Wayne Sebastianelli has seen injuries children suffered at the hands of abusive adults.

That’s why he’s proud that local doctors are offering financial support for the launch of the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center, to open later this year in Bellefonte.

That support is on top of Mount Nittany Medical Center’s commitment to provide a location for the center and to train three local pediatricians to handle cases of physical and sexual abuse of children.

“This is something that is needed in this area,” Sebastianelli said of the CAC, where child victims will be interviewed by one specialist trained to talk to the child about the abuse instead of multiple interviews wtih police, prosecutors, caseworkers and doctors.

The closest CACs are in Danville and Indiana, Pa.

The Centre County CAC will be in a hospital-owned building on Medical Park Lane in Bellefonte, and it will also serve neighboring counties.

Sebastianelli, chief of staff at Mount Nittany Medical Center, confirmed that local doctors voted to donate the interest earned on their Medical Staff Endowment Fund to the CAC.

The fund is housed with The Foundation for Mount Nittany Medical Center. In four years, the fund has grown to more than $120,000. The medical staff will contribute $5,500 to the advocacy center.

This will be the first outside contribution from the endowment, although donations have been made to the hospital’s employee assistance fund to help staff members facing hardship.

Foundation Director Kimberly Neely said the doctors’ move to contribute to the center was “a spontaneous and unanimous decision on their part.”

She added: “They’ve had this endowment in place for some time, and it’s funded from their own pockets. They hadn’t really decided what to do with it. They built the principle and built the fund, with the understanding that when something inspired them, they would make a decision.”

‘A tremendous asset’

Mount Nittany Health pediatricians Craig Collison, Rachel Schwab and Kristie Kaufman will work with children at the CAC.

The center will share a building with an expanded Mount Nittany Physician Group pediatric practice in Bellefonte, with separate entrances for the two offices.

An internal door will allow the doctors to move between the offices as needed, said Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford, who chairs a task force that is planning the center.

“That’s what’s going to set this advocacy center apart from others,” Lunsford said. “We will have physicians in-house and on-call 24-7. That’s a significant step up over the standard CAC model.”

Sebastianelli said having pediatricians on-site will be critical to the effectiveness of the CAC.

“They’re very committed to the well-being of children as a primary focus of their health care mission,” he said. “We’re looking forward to their oversight in terms of the pediatric aspect of this center.

“To have the psychological support, the medical support and the legal and police-type involvement to be managed inside four walls, that’s going to be a tremendous asset,” Sebastianelli said.

Talk of establishing a local child advocacy center began several years ago, leaders said, but the project gained momentum as the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse story unfolded.

The CAC effort got a boost in January, when Mount Nittany got on board, led by President and CEO Steve Brown.

‘Serious commitment’

The children’s center will be a subsidiary of the Mount Nittany Health system, but will behave as a community nonprofit, with a board of directors and partnerships with other local organizations, Neely said.

The center’s planning committee and hospital management are interviewing candidates for the position of executive director. That key job will be filled soon.

“We’re well into that process,” said Nichole Monica, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Contributions to the Medical Staff Endowment Fund come from professionals affiliated with Mount Nittany Physicians Group, Hershey Medical Center and Geisinger Health System, as well as independent doctors.

“They wanted to be one of the first groups to give to this project,” Neely said.

Lunsford called the doctors’ support of the CAC “very generous.”

“Beyond that,” he said, “it’s symbolic of a serious commitment by one of the major stakeholders in this effort, and that’s the medical community.”

Sebastianelli hopes other organizations get in line to enhance the effort.

“For a first excursion into philanthropy … this is probably as positive a cause as we could get involved with,” Sebastianelli said. “This program is going to help the community. We felt we needed to do something here.

“This is a great way to, No. 1, help child advocacy in the community, and No. 2, help our pediatric physicians,” he said. “Hopefully, this will stimulate others to do the same thing.”