In 1993, Barbara Green, PhD., was a young psychologist doing consult liaison work at South Shore Hospital. During one week in April, Dr. Green did four consults on the pediatric unit with adolescents who had made suicide attempts. Two of those patients were 12-year-old girls.
“I just remember being struck by the thought that there is something we’re missing. We need to go upstream. We need to work on prevention so I’m not standing at a bedside with a family in crisis,” Dr. Green recalls.
After that troubling week, Dr. Green took action. She asked hospital leadership for support in addressing adolescent health within the community. Then-CEO David Hannon gave Barbara the authority to do some needs assessments with educators, primarily high school principals and superintendents.
This research led to what was first known as the Adolescent Suicide Prevention Project, but is today called Youth Health Connection (YHC).
Now in its 25th year, YHC continues to fulfill its mission to promote healthy families and communities across the South Shore. Dr. Green serves as Medical Director and is supported by a team of professionals, including Program Coordinator Kim Noble, BS, MBA, RN, Executive Assistant Karin Farrell, BS, and Secretary Jean Kelly.
“South Shore Hospital, and now South Shore Health, has been a promoter and supporter of the work,” Dr. Green says.
“They believe in the mission, they believe in the work, and they’ve given us the platform to really create what resonates strongly today.”
Youth Health Connection also facilitates South Shore FACTS: Families, Adolescents and Communities Together against Substances. This regional coalition is dedicated to preventing youth substance use by helping individual towns to create their own community coalition. YHC is also known to the public for its recent educational events at the Hanover Mall. “Hidden In Plain Sight” was an initiative that used a recreated bedroom of a typical teenager to test parents’ knowledge of common items that can be substance use warnings.
For the past two years, “Weeding Through the Myths: Marijuana in Massachusetts” informed the public about the Commonwealth’s new marijuana laws and the risks of adolescent marijuana use. Developed by YHC, “Weeding Through the Myths” has been a resource for high schools and police departments across the Commonwealth.
But YHC goes far beyond exhibits at the mall. YHC engages stakeholders that touch the lives of teens and their families to improve health and address at-risk behaviors. This includes administrators and nurses from public, parochial, independent and charter schools, district attorneys, school resource officers, and beyond.
Noble writes a weekly newsletter for parents and school officials, full of evidence-based research into all issues that touch adolescent health, from mindfulness to vaping. The team does proactive outreach to schools and community groups when tragedy strikes, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, with resources and advice on how to help kids cope. They also facilitate peer leader trainings, substance use conferences, and much more.
“If something we do helps and supports one person, it’s worth it,” says Noble.