An Engaging Advocate

. October 30, 2012.
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Maria Thomas has one goal in mind — to help moms and dads raise healthy kids. Thomas, advocacy director at the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, helps legislators get the facts about health care by connecting them with physicians, researchers and other experts. The result? Good policy decisions that affect your child’s wellbeing.

Thomas also champions programs that improve youngsters’ health. “We want to give a voice for children,” she said. Creating broad systemic change is her objective. “One example would be for stronger child passen- ger safety legislation,” she said. Promoting better access to health care is another aim.

Parents face a number of obstacles in achieving that goal, she said.

“[The problem is] not just insurance, its transportation to help families get access,” she said. Discovering what areas Washtenaw County moms and dads think they need help with is step one in improving health care. C.S. Mott has joined with other hospi- tals and agencies to survey 2,000 people in the community every five years to get a true picture of their needs, Thomas said.

Childhood obesity and immunizations are among the concerns mentioned in the most recent survey. While Thomas offers scientific data and other information to leg- islators, she’s not a lobbyist.
“We don’t have a vested interest,” she said. “We try to make parental views heard. It could be in the form of visits to the Hill, where we take parents.”

Helping others has always been a cause close to Thomas’s heart. The daughter of a cardiologist who once practiced in Britain, Thomas lived in India and else- where around the world. After earning a degree in English literature from Oxford University and another degree in nonprofit management from Columbia University, she worked with United Nations agencies on a variety of issues related to health care.

“I wanted to be hands-on in the public sector,” Thomas said. “I think as a society we owe a greater debt to those without voices who are most vulnerable.”

One of the most important things par- ents can do to improve their youngsters’ health is to be a good example by keeping an eye on safety, eating well and staying active, Thomas said.

“It’s clearly the case that children respond to role models,” she said. Getting enough sleep, limiting time on electronic devices and reducing the number of sugary drinks are other things to consider. “Little steps can make a big difference.”

The University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital offers a number of programs and services for youths, moms and dads, from pediatric massage classes to Therapaws, canine-assisted therapy for young patients.

For more information about the hospital’s efforts to assist children, visit them at www.mottchildren.org