Photo: UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals
With a $3 million gift from Elisa and Marc Stad, UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals have launched the Stad Center for Pediatric Pain, Palliative & Integrative Medicine – one of the most innovative and comprehensive programs of its kind in the nation.
Marc Stad, founder and managing partner at Dragoneer Investment Group, and Elisa Stad, a former international marketing executive and current member of the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals board, recognized the need for an innovative approach to treating children in pain and made it their mission to seek out an expert in the field. They found the expertise in Stefan Friedrichsdorf, MD, an internationally renowned pediatrician specializing in pain management and palliative medicine, and established an endowed professorship for him at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals in San Francisco and Oakland.
“From being a child who was in and out of medical centers for asthma treatment to parenting a young family of my own, I understand the inherent fear children have of the hospital experience,” Elisa Stad said. “Children affected by severe illness are grappling with so much more than a clinical diagnosis. Many are also experiencing trauma, anxiety, social isolation, and chronic pain, which requires a holistic approach that can address all of these conditions simultaneously.”
During a visit to Shanghai Children’s Medical Center (SCMC), one of the top pediatric hospitals in Asia, Elisa Stad was struck by the fluid interplay between Western techniques and Eastern medicine. Inspired by the holistic treatment offered to SCMC oncology patients, Elisa Stad returned to the United States with a plan to help UCSF employ integrative methods in both its San Francisco and Oakland campuses.
"Establishing this Center will propel new advances in integrative medicine and pain management to provide expert care that prioritizes comfort and healing," said Matthew Cook, president of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. “Given that many of these critical services are not reimbursed by insurance, this generous philanthropic support will help meet our promise to always aim higher for the patients and families that need us most."
The Stad Center for Pediatric Pain, Palliative & Integrative Medicine is an intensive, interdisciplinary and rehabilitative inpatient and outpatient pain clinic treating children affected by both acute and chronic pain, including the discomfort from sickle cell disease. Specialized teams provide expert consultative services with state-of-the-art technology and innovative techniques to work collaboratively with providers from across the health system.
In the past 12 months, the Stad Center has managed more than 8,000 inpatient and outpatient encounters - a number that is expected to rise significantly as the center adds eight clinicians to the staff, including three physicians, nurse practitioners, acupuncturists, massage therapists, psychologists, social workers, and specialists in Eastern medicine.
As medical director, Friedrichsdorf leads the center in treating children for pain by integrating concepts from Eastern and Western medicine. His goal is also to educate the medical community about the impact of pain during childhood and bring innovative treatments to the field.
“Children with unrelieved pain turn into adults with much higher rates of chronic pain, anxiety and depression,” said Friedrichsdorf, who joined UCSF from Children’s Minnesota, where he was medical director of the Department of Pain Medicine, Palliative Care & Integrative Medicine from 2005-2020. During his tenure, the department grew to one of the largest in the country and received national acclaim.
During the next three years, the Stad Center will implement a new UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals “Comfort Promise,” at its pediatric facilities, Friedrichsdorf said. “I often hear from my colleagues nationwide that we don’t have enough staff. But our commitment at UCSF is to do everything possible to prevent and treat pain for every child, every time.”
More than 1 in 5 youth suffer from severe chronic pain, such as migraines, abdominal pain, and joint discomfort, resulting in absences from school. The Stad Center treats children from birth to adulthood with the latest technologies in pain management, such as advanced and safe pain medications, nerve blocks, and implantable medication pumps. Integrative therapies include acupuncture, acupressure, massage, meditation, and clinical hypnosis. The center also specializes in pediatric palliative care, with the goal of improving the quality of life for children with life-limiting illnesses, allowing them to live as long and as well as possible.
Stephen Wilson, MD, Ph.D., chief medical officer and pediatric pain specialist, led early work at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals to establish a pain and palliative care program in San Francisco and worked with the Stads to bring Friedrichsdorf to UCSF.
“Physical, emotional, and spiritual pain are among the greatest challenges children face when seriously ill,” Wilson said. “The Stads’ philanthropic support has brought to life Dr. Friedrichsdorf’s vision of a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and integrative approach to pediatric pain. With this center, our hospitals can harness both cutting-edge science and traditional integrative practices to improve our patients’ lives and lead the nation in providing integrative medicine to manage pediatric pain.”
Another crucial component of Friedrichsdorf’s vision is educating other clinicians in pain management, since medical training often does not require formal training in pain management and prevention. Board certified in both the United States and Germany, he has presented more than 800 lectures about pediatric pain medicine, palliative care, and integrative medicine in 30 countries on 6 continents.
The Center will deploy a portion of the Stad gift to fund research. By conducting patient comfort surveys and cross-referencing data from 10 hospitals, Friedrichsdorf and his colleague Andrea Postier, Ph.D., aim to identify areas of improvement for UCSF. They also will conduct trials to evaluate different modalities to reduce pain and distress, giving patients access to the latest, evidence-based therapies.
Marc Stad shared his passion for providing access to high-quality health care for all families, regardless of socio-economic status, citing research from the Children’s Health Fund that found as many as 28% of U.S. children, including the insured, lack acceptable access to pediatric care.
“Through the Stad Center, Elisa and I aim to support UCSF’s efforts to offer every child sufficient access to world-class, integrative, and innovative medical care,” he said.