AAP Member Spotlight

  Chaves Diego Chaves-Gnecco, MD

Pediatric Bilingual Clinic; Pittsburgh, PA

Diego Chaves-Gnecco, MD, MPH, is a man with a mission: To improve the health and well-being of Hispanic and Latino families in the region. Thanks to his vision and tireless efforts to create a Pediatric Bilingual Clinic, he is well on his way.

On a recent Saturday morning, a steady stream of Spanish- and Portuguese- speaking families lines up at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh/Ronald McDonald Care Mobile as it takes up most of the narrow street in front of an adult health clinic on the South Side. Its name says it all: Salud Para Niños - - Health for Children.

While "The Star-Spangled Banner" plays in the background, Dr. Chaves-Gnecco shuttles between the Care Mobile and the overflow crowd waiting in the clinic. He seems to be everywhere: chatting with children and parents, instructing volunteers from local colleges, making sure each child receives a bilingual storybook, and distributing information - in Spanish - about the Children's Health Insurance Program. He is in his element.

Although the Hispanic/Latino community in southwestern Pennsylvania is sizable - it numbered 17,500 in 2000, a 44 percent increase from 1990 -- Dr. Chaves-Gnecco says it is largely ?invisible.? It is not well-organized and there is no one neighborhood where most of the families live. And when Dr. Chaves-Gnecco arrived in Pittsburgh in 1998, few Spanish-speaking families sought care at Children?s.

Dr. Chaves-Gnecco trained in pediatrics in Colombia, but he had to redo his residency to be licensed in the United States. That turned out to be a very good thing for Spanish-speaking children in the area. In 2002, as part of Children's Community Oriented Residency Education (CORE), he developed a plan to serve Hispanic and Latino families.

Dena Hofkosh, MD, director of Children's Pediatric Residency Program, gave Dr. Chaves-Gnecco a green light. "Diego showed a real passion and commitment to helping this community," Dr. Hofkosh says. "He knew how he could connect with them and, just as important, took a thoughtful, realistic approach to helping them."

In the beginning he was a one-man band, looking for patients by visiting churches, sending electronic messages to Hispanic and Latino mailing lists and taking part in a Spanish-language radio program out of Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). "I spoke at St. Hyacinth Church in Oakland so often, parishioners started to think I was a priest," he says.

His grassroots efforts worked. Just under 200 children have received care since the program's inception, accounting for nearly 1,000 visits. The Pediatric Bilingual Clinic operates once a week in Children's Primary Care Center in Oakland, staffed by Dr. Chaves-Gnecco and Children's pediatric residents Roberto Ortiz-Aguayo, MD, and Isabela Cajiao, MD. The Salud Para Niños mobile clinic began operation on the South Side in 2004.

New services -- health-related and others -- are added as the need is realized. The first car seat program for Spanish-speaking families took place in 2003. Certified car seat technicians conduct the safety checks, while CMU students translate.

"We truly focus on the health and well-being of the whole family," Dr. Chaves-Gnecco says. "I can see this program growing for years to come."

In 2004, Dr. Chaves-Gnecco received the Anne E. Dyson Child Advocacy Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), as well as a 2004 Community Access To Child Health (CATCH) program grant for residents from the AAP.

But it is another form of recognition that means even more. Dr. Chaves-Gnecco feels that, in some ways, he is reinventing the old concept of the family doctor who is almost a member of the family. "I am invited to baptisms, christenings, birthday parties. It is an honor for me."

-Article reprinted courtesy of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh


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