Donning a tall red and white striped hat, Robert Greenberg, MD, physician in chief for the Kaiser Permanente Greater Southern Alameda Area, sat on the floor of the San Leandro Medical Center’s pediatric waiting room with a book in his hand.
“Come and join me down here,” he said as he waved to a group of children waiting for their appointments.
“It’s better when you can see the pictures,” he added as he opened Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You Will Go! A group of children — toddlers to elementary-school age — gathered around him curiously.
Kaiser Permanente was the first health care system to adopt the Reach Out and Read model — nearly two decades ago.
Held on Dr. Seuss’ birthday, March 2, Read Across America Day features volunteer readers, and in the case of the San Leandro Medical Center event, healthy snacks and an art activity, where children could create their own version of a Dr. Seuss book.
“This day and the Reach Out and Read program are perfectly aligned with Kaiser Permanente’s mission,” said Dr. Greenberg. “The more we can promote literacy and multi-lingual literacy, the better for the overall health of our members.”
And the research supports it: Frequent reading accelerates vocabulary and critical brain stimulation.
An Investment in the Community
Edmund Chan, chief operating officer of the San Leandro Medical Center, and Corina Lopez, councilmember of the City of San Leandro, also volunteered to read at the Read Across America event.
“There’s the research and data around the impact of early literacy, such as improved focus and concentration, critical thinking skills, stress reduction, and so much more.” Chan said. “But then there’s the emotional side: Kids from an early age that are engaged with reading become more connected with others.”
In addition to important health outcomes, Lopez stressed the impact of literacy in the community.
“The program gives children the love to read, which opens all doors in life. When people have a love for reading they’re able to participate in the community and become enfranchised,” said Lopez.
A Long-Term Partnership
Founded in 1989, Reach Out and Read encourages U.S. pediatric clinicians to promote literacy as a routine part of care: Patients between the ages of 6 months and 5 years receive a book during their well-child visits. More than 4.2 million children nationwide receive nearly 7 million books annually through the program.
Today in the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Region, 58 facilities run the program; 500 pediatricians participate; and around 230,000 books were distributed to children last year.
“Kaiser Permanente’s partnership with the program helps connect how literacy relates to our health and the health of our community,” said Venus Ke, Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community and Government Relations representative and regional coordinator for the Reach Out and Read program. “It’s meaningful work. Literacy shapes health outcomes later in life, and it’s an indicator of success in all shapes and forms.”