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Paula L. Root and Leon Root, MD--Recipients, Distinguished Community Service Award

United Hospital Fund—October 29, 2010

The United Hospital Fund’s Distinguished Community Service award, underwritten by TIAA-CREF, recognizes volunteer leadership that significantly improves health care in New York City.  This year, we salute Paula L. Root for her work with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York and Leon Root, MD, for founding the Hospital for Special Surgery’s Pediatric Outreach Program. 

For Paula Root, that vision led to her service, for the past twenty-seven years, on the board of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, focusing on both children’s and mental health.  “I bring my family history with me,” says Mrs. Root, citing the example of her grandmother, who was one of the founders of Canada’s Victorian Order of Nurses, and who organized efforts to bring orphaned children from Europe to Canada in the 1930s.  “When I was asked to become involved with VNSNY, I went on a home visit, saw the impact the nurse had, and from that moment I was committed.

” A concern with the whole cycle—from early-childhood diagnoses through follow-up once young adults have “aged out” of pediatric services, and beyond—is very much a part of Leon Root’s extraordinary volunteer career as well.  A renowned orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Root started the Hospital for Special Surgery’s pediatric service in 1972, and spent twenty-five years as its chief.  Seeing that many of the children coming to the hospital had conditions that would have been more amenable to treatment had they been diagnosed earlier, he took a seemingly simple vision—screening services for children, in their communities—and created a program of enormous impact.

Starting with an initial visit to one school, the Pediatric Outreach Program, or POP, established in 1987, would go on to make monthly visits to elementary schools throughout Manhattan and the lower Bronx.  With a team of three or four residents and several nurses, all volunteers, the program uses simple assessments to diagnose a range of orthopedic problems, and sometimes non-orthopedic ones as well.

Today, the Leon Root, MD, Pediatric Outreach Program, as it was renamed on its 20th anniversary, has seen some 25,000 children, and made more than 3,500 referrals.  The critical heart of the program, says Dr. Root, is that when screening uncovers a problem, the program’s coordinator works with the child’s family to set up an appointment at HSS, provides cab fare to and from the hospital, follows up to make sure the visit was made, arranges additional visits, and coordinates applications for insurance, if needed.

Through POP, the lessons taught are also about the need to “give back,” and to fully understand patients’ needs.  For Dr. Root, a specialist in managing cerebral palsy and osteogenesis imperfecta, “You can’t just be an orthopedic surgeon.  You have to help socially, counsel the family, take care of the problems anyone experiences with aging.”

But perhaps his greatest reward has been seeing his commitment and compassion reflected in the equal commitment that Paula Root brings to her volunteer efforts.  Their pride in each other’s work is palpable.  “We really are partners,” they both say, “and that’s a very lucky thing.”  It is lucky, too, for all those their lives have touched.

The United Hospital Fund is proud to present the Distinguished Community Service Award to Paula L. Root and Leon Root, MD, for their generosity of time and spirit, and for the tangible improvements they have made in the lives of thousands of New Yorkers.

This story originally appeared at uhfnyc.org.


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