It's a Kid's Life

Maria Kids Life Article 

Caring for the Whole Child at Crotched Mountain

For most children, a visit to the hospital is a rare and brief occurrence. But for children with chronic, medically complex conditions, the hospital is a fact of life. At Crotched Mountain Specialty Hospital, medical care comes with some pretty great amenities, allowing students attending Crotched Mountain School (CMS) to enjoy life as typical kids, as they go to class, explore the woods, play video games, swim and participate in Special Olympics, dance and even hang out in a tree house.

This may come as a surprise to those who know the hospital as a rehabilitation center for people recovering from brain injuries and other neurological conditions. But for many years now, we’ve provided skilled nursing care for children with complex medical conditions so that they can go to school. Today, eight children receive skilled nursing supports through the hospital and attend Crotched Mountain School. “It takes a community like Crotched Mountain to provide for the whole child,” says Jean Harding, a care coordinator who works with the eight students and their families. “We offer students a busy life with all the benefits of a full campus of activities.”

The hospital works very closely with CMS, a fully accredited special education school adjacent to the hospital. “If a student has a bad night, the teacher will know about it, or if a student isn’t feeling well in class, communication with the medical team is immediate. Dr. McCartie, our full-time pediatrician, has a relationship with all the students on the unit and sees them in all settings,” Jean adds.

Thirteen-year-old Maria has attended CMS since 2005. She is diagnosed with autism, developmental delays and a number of other complex medical conditions that require 24-hour skilled nursing care. She came to Crotched Mountain Specialty Hospital after her family could no longer provide the care she required at home.

Maria’s mother, Carol, is a nurse practitioner. She says that even with her advanced medical training, Maria’s needs were too complex to manage at home. “We did everything we could, and it just became too difficult for everyone."


Maria is also unable to digest food, and receives nutrition and medications through a J-tube that connects directly to her intestines. This, along with other medical needs, requires her to leave the classroom several times a day and return to the hospital unit for care. “When she was at home, if she had to see the doctor, I would leave work, pick her up at school, take her to the appointment and then bring her home,” says Carol. “I was missing work and Maria was missing school.”

At Crotched Mountain, everything Maria needs is within a short walk, beginning with her early morning, 90-minute swim in the therapy pool where, with Lisa Brissette, her LNA and teaching assistant, Maria enjoys playing in the water. “The pool satisfies her sensory needs. She loves it and would spend all day here if she could.” says Lisa. “After expending energy here in the morning, she can focus better in class.” Maria likes to be on the move. In the classroom, she might spend 20 minutes using her picture communication system to choose activities like playing with her favorite musical toy, or doing a shape-matching puzzle. “Then she’s ready for a walk,” says Lisa, who admirably keeps up with Maria’s impressive energy level.

Teacher Ellen Banning notes that since arriving at CMS, Maria, who is non-verbal, has made improvements making eye contact and communicating with pictures and hand gestures. Carol couldn’t be happier. “Crotched Mountain goes above and beyond. I especially trust the staff with non-verbal patients. I see how they interact with them and get to know them. I never have to worry,” she says. Jean says the unit does everything it can to make the atmosphere as warm and home-like as possible. “It’s family-centered care. We’re never closed to family and friends who can take part in therapy and other campus activities.” Carol agrees. “Crotched Mountain provides love. There is nothing better than this.”

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One Verney Drive Greenfield, NH 03047 Tel. 603.547.3311