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Dr. Tamara Fusco is a tireless advocate for children’s health.
Her latest efforts, after 27 years in pediatric care, center on supporting kids’ mental health. She says it’s an area that sparked a passion inside her because the need was so great.
“When we pair the rise of mental health diagnoses and a woeful lack of resources, it leads to a problem of many people having no access to care or receiving substandard treatment. Children and adolescents are important victims of this trend,” Fusco says.
“Most diagnoses in child and adolescent mental health do best when both medical and psychological services are provided, but very few children receive this.”
To that end, one year ago she helped establish Burrell Behavioral Health’s Youth Focus Clinic to support kids with ADHD with psychological testing, medication management, therapy for parents and patients, and socio-emotional support.
The American Academy of Pediatrics found in a 2019 report that 8% of children ages 2-17 have ADHD, but a quarter of those kids do not receive treatment. Fusco says she is proud to be part of the solution.
“This is a collaborative clinic designed to embrace the whole child by providing comprehensive services with a mission for improved access and expanded resources to our community,” she says.
She says the clinic is a model that can be replicated across the country.
Fusco began her career as a pediatrician with residency training at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans in 1993.
She was later selected by the pediatric department faculty to spend an additional year at the university as the chief resident and associate professor, where she organized educational training and oversaw medical teams.
Fusco says she used the leadership opportunity to do some good at Charity Hospital, which was the largest public hospital serving socioeconomically disadvantaged populations in the area.
“Although breastfeeding has been shown to have a huge impact on child health, the breastfeeding rate at Charity was a terrible 3%. I was able to add a training rotation for the residents where we went to the Charity OB clinics and provided education (and) information,” she says. “Then we provided support for the mothers and babies after the babies were born.”
After only a year, breastfeeding rates more than tripled to nearly 10%.
She continued work to support new mothers in Springfield, when in 2013 while working with Mercy Springfield Communities, she served as a founding member of the Greater Ozarks Regional Breastfeeding Coalition and helped to establish the Greater Ozarks Regional Mother’s Milk Depot, which allows women to donate excess breast milk.
She says her life centers around making a difference in the lives of children, and that extends to outside the doctor’s office. She has served on the boards of Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Ozarks and the Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks.
SBJ interviews the interim dean at the William H. Darr College of Agriculture at Missouri State University.