By Trevor Storrs, Executive Director, Alaska Children’s Trust
In 1980, the first children’s trust was created in Kansas pioneered by an internationally renowned pediatrician – Dr. Ray Helfer. Dr. Helfer saw trust funds used to care for our nation’s highways and wildlife and thought, “Why not our nation’s children. Our most precious resource.” Dr. Helfer is considered the “father” of children’s trusts and prevention funds because of this vision. His idea has been the catalyst for the development of a nationwide network of community-based programs focused on the health and well-being of our children. Today, there are 48 states with a children’s trust.
In 1993, the National Alliance of Children’s Trust and Prevention Funds and the American Academy of Pediatrics partnered to create the Ray Helfer Award. This distinguished award is given to a pediatrician who has made a demonstrated contribution to the health and well-being of our children and families, primarily through their work with their state children’s trust.
It is with great honor to see one of our own local champions, Dr. Matt Hirschfeld, receive this award. Dr. Hirschfeld is more than your standard pediatrician. He is an advocate, care provider, convener, leader, catalyst, mentor, and uncle.
Dr. Hirschfeld is a second-generation pediatrician. He followed in his father’s footsteps and graduated from the University of Utah as a pediatrician. After graduation in 2005, he moved to Alaska and began working at the Alaska Native Medical Center (ANMC). His roles have included medical director of the NICU and director of the department of pediatric hospital medicine. He is currently the medical director of the maternal child health services. In addition, he holds a faculty position with the University of Alaska and University of Washington, allowing him to further inspire the up-and-coming pediatricians.
Academically, he has authored several papers on the topic of child maltreatment and has shared his knowledge and perspectives as a guest speaker at conferences across the nation.
As a professional, he works hard to ensure children and families have the support and access to resources to be successful. In the exam room, Dr. Hirschfeld goes beyond just the physical well-being of the child. He recognizes the relationship between child and parent(s) and how if one is not healthy, the other will suffer as well. In addition, he ensures the family has the support and resources to address their needs at home, like access to food, housing, financial support, and much more.
As ANMC’s director of maternal child health services, Dr. Hirschfeld has been one of the leaders to create the first Ronald McDonald Houses in Alaska. Within the structure, they included housing for expecting mothers who come in early from rural Alaska (known as “the Bush”). It provides an opportunity for Dr. Hirschfeld’s team to connect with these women before they become mothers. Currently, he is working with Southcentral Foundation and ANMC to build Alaska’s first child development assessment unit.
However, his professional roles are just the tip of the iceberg of his contribution to our community in our fight to prevent child abuse and neglect. Alaska has one of the highest rates of child abuse and neglect, per capita, in the nation. Dr. Hirschfeld has dedicated most of his non-clinical professional and personal time to going as far up stream as possible to prevent child abuse and neglect.
One of Alaska Children’s Trust’s (ACT) key partners is the All Alaska Pediatric Partnership (A2P2). Dr. Hirschfeld has been a member of the A2P2 board for several years, and has held board chair for the past three years. He has led their journey to focus their attention of integrating Strengthening Families into pediatrician offices across the state and for A2P2 to be actively engaged in the conversations of how Alaska can reduce trauma and build resilience in the child, family and community.
In addition, Dr. Hirschfeld has been instrumental in making adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) a key topic addressed at the annual Peds Symposium for the past four years. He assisted with the creation of A2PS’s “First 1,000 Days Campaign.” Plus, he has assisted with the implementation of a pilot project of Triple P in rural Alaska.
In addition to being a member of the board for A2P2, Dr. Hirschfeld has been or is currently a member of various pediatrician or medical associations in Alaska and nationally. He is a board member of the largest family foundation in Alaska – Rasmuson Foundation. He is a member of various statewide committees that focus on early childhood development. He is a member of the child death review committee. In all of these roles, he has promoted the importance of investing early in our children and families to ensure their success.
As a partner of ACT, he is a member of our Alaska Resilience Initiative. The Alaska Resilience Initiative is a partnership of nonprofit, private, tribal and government organizations that promotes community empowerment to support and respond to the needs of individual families and children. Our goal is to advance the dialogue in our state on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), toxic stress in childhood and how communities can prevent ACEs and build resilience. Another partnership with ACT is the exploration of bringing Help Me Grow to Alaska.
Dr. Hirschfeld’s work does not stop in Alaska. He is also actively involved in the Council of International Neonatal Nurses (COINN). COINN is an organization that represents nurses who specialize in the care of newborn infants and their families or have a special interest in this area of nursing. It is an important part of the growing international community of nurses that represent a resource for nurses who want to form a national or local organization, create guidelines for care or professional standards, or just want advice on neonatal nursing issues. As recognized global leaders in neonatal nursing care, COINN is committed to fostering excellence and promoting the development of neonatal nursing globally.
Dr. Hirschfeld not only followed in his father’s footsteps but is also following in Dr. Helfer’s footsteps. Like Dr. Helfer, Dr. Hirschfeld has made it his life mission to ensuring our children and families live long and healthy lives. Together we can prevent child abuse and neglect.