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Doctors grateful for million dollar donation to fund new child abuse treatment area

Allyson Crowell and Helen Adams | | June 14, 2017

Photo illustration of abused child
Photo illustration
A generous gift from the Rice family means the treatment area for abused children in the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital will offer privacy and comfort to children in crisis.

A special area for helping abused children begin to heal in the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital will ensure they can be cared for in privacy and comfort. The hospital is scheduled to open in 2019. John Melville, the MUSC Children’s Health director of child abuse pediatrics, said his team was thrilled to hear that Lisa and Joe Rice of the Motley Rice law firm were donating $1 million to help fund the child abuse area.

“I am incredibly grateful,” Melville said. “We want to make a more child-friendly environment that doesn’t need to look like an ER room. It can look like a room where kids can talk and be taken care of.”

Joe Rice said the need was clear. “Children are the most defenseless members of our society. It has been my life’s mission to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves, whether it’s in the courtroom or the community.”

Dr. Russell and Dr. MelvillePhoto by Sarah Pack 
Pediatric emergency medicine doctor Scott Russell talks with John Melville, the director of child abuse pediatrics at MUSC Children's Health. 

Lisa Rice met with Melville and pediatric emergency medicine division director Scott Russell to learn about their program, the only one of its kind in Charleston. Russell showed her floor plans for the new hospital, which will provide privacy at check-in and then a direct path to a larger patient room with its own restroom. Under the current configuration, abuse victims often wind up crossing eight halls and going up three floors before reaching the care they need.

“This new hospital will mean a lot more privacy and getting to places where they can heal faster,” Russell said. “We take care of 50 percent of abused children in the state and can get right to providing them with care.”

Lisa Rice liked what she heard. “It’ll be exciting to see what those doctors achieve when they have exactly what they need.”

The Rices are known for their generosity in the Lowcountry and serve on the board of the MUSC Children’s Hospital. They made the donation for the child abuse area with their daughter and son-in-law, Ann E. Rice Ervin and Tucker Ervin. They’re also contributors to the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center, which works with Melville’s team to ensure children get the continuing care they need.

Rice family with checkPhoto provided 
Left to right: Country music star Darius Rucker joins Tucker Ervin, Ann E. Rice Ervin, Lisa Rice, Joe Rice, Beth Rucker and MUSC President Dr. David Cole for a check presentation.   

The Rices’ investment in the child abuse area of the new children’s hospital comes at a time when child abuse pediatrics is maturing as a field, Melville said. It became an official subspecialty of pediatrics just seven years ago. But the MUSC Children’s Health team has focused on this critical issue for much longer than that. “We had a child abuse service long before child abuse was even a formal specialty.”

The MUSC Children’s Health team includes four board-certified child abuse pediatricians. Their decision to specializing in the treatment of boys and girls who have suffered abuse gives them the expertise to help those children heal. 

“There’s this myth out there that abused children are scarred for life and they’re never going to be the same. And it’s just not true,” Melville said. “We know how to treat this. These kids get better and they get better quickly. They get better over months, not over years.”

Their loved ones can play an important role in that process. “I always try to tell parents to believe your kids,” Melville said. “Some of the research for my fellowship looked at how kids blame themselves for what’s happened. And the biggest predictor we found in our research for kids not blaming themselves was having the first person they told say, ‘I believe you, I’m going to protect you.’”

Melville said creating the right environment is important, as well. “Obviously, when people discover that their child has been abused, they’re in shock. And they immediately get thrown into a system that’s very unusual to them, and not even a whole lot like of the rest of the medical system,” he said.

“Not only are they faced with the revelation of some awful news, but they’re also faced with the evidence collection process, which has to be quick because any DNA from the abuser has to be captured almost immediately. I think having a room dedicated to this means we’ll be able to spend more time focusing on our patients,” Melville said. “We do a good job with what we’ve got, but having this extra resource is going to make it that much easier for our young patients and their families.”