First 5 Lex Partner Spotlight: UK HealthCare and Reach Out & Read


Dr. Donna dressed as Mother Goose for the Book Madness event

We are in the midst of a blog series to show appreciation for our community partners and supporters! Today, TALK with Dr. Donna Grigsby, the Division Chief for General Academic Pediatrics at UK HealthCare. She is heavily involved with Kentucky’s Reach Out and Read program, which is part of a national organization that examines the relationship between a child, family, and healthcare provider and the role that relationship can play in encouraging early literacy. If you’re interested in learning more about the Reach Out and Read program, click here.


Let’s learn more about UK HealthCare and Reach Out & Read in our question and answer session with Donna!


Can you talk about your role with UK HealthCare, and what a typical day may look like for you?

I’m a General Pediatrician and the Division Chief for General Academic Pediatrics. I’ve been a member of UK’s faculty since 1990. I spend most of my time seeing patients in the clinic, but I go to the newborn nursery six or seven times a year to see healthy newborns and their families. I have a lot of administrative duties in addition to that as well.


Can you tell us about UK Healthcare’s community outreach? What role do you play in the community?

UK HealthCare does a lot of community outreach, and I’m probably not the best person to ask about their outreach as a whole. However, being a part of Reach Out and Read and a member of First 5 Lex are a couple of my community outreach roles.


Since the late 1990s, UK HealthCare had Reach Out and Read in our clinics, so I knew what a wonderful program it was. In 2007, the state decided they wanted to see that program grow. At the time, Kentucky had maybe twenty clinical sites in thirteen counties, and part of my role at that point was to expand the program. We focused on the counties with the lowest adult literacy rates, figured out who the healthcare providers in those counties were, asked if they would be interested in participating, and supported those who were interested in starting the program.


Kentucky now has 74 active sites in 50-something counties, plus six others that have been approved but need to complete their provider training in order to become active. Obviously 2020 has been a crazy year, so our numbers aren’t as high as usual. For reference, in the six-month period ending in January 2020, we served almost 67,000 children in Kentucky. 56,000 of these children received books at their visits. On a national level, Reach Out and Read serves a total of five or six million children.


Can you tell us some more about the Reach Out and Read program?

Reach Out and Read focuses on early childhood and serves children from birth through 5 years of age. Our mission is to use the relationship with a child’s primary health care provider to encourage literacy. Studies suggest that families are more likely to read to their children if a health care provider tells them to do so.


There are three main components to our program. The first is that we talk about the importance of reading to children from their birth. Second, we provide a developmentally appropriate book at every well child checkup, from their first one when they are two weeks old to their five-year checkup. Third, we use volunteers to read in the waiting rooms and help organize books and things like that in some of our sites. Covid-19 has put a crimp in the last part of that. We try to have a literacy-rich waiting room with signs about the importance of reading. We have the First 5 Lex Read, Talk and Play signs in all of our rooms and have books that we take in at the start of a child’s visit for them to read while waiting for their provider. The children can then take the books home with them.


How do your Reach Out and Read and UK HealthCare work align with First 5 Lex’s values? Why was partnering with First 5 Lex a logical fit?

We both recognize the importance of early literacy in later success for students and families. I think we align beautifully because we're both focused on the things that we can do to help families encourage early language skills and early literacy and we’re both focused on families that are at highest risk to have resource issues, to have difficulties with understanding the importance and difficulties with being able to have books for their children.


How long has UK HealthCare and Reach Out & Read been a part of the First 5 community team?

We were actually lucky enough to be involved in the planning of First 5 Lex, and have been partners since the beginning.


Why do you think the First 5 message- to read, talk and play with little ones each day- is so important?

It stresses the importance of early brain development and we know that reading, talking and playing are all extremely important in early brain development. Children are born ready to learn, they’re just not born ready for school.


In your opinion, what positive change has First 5 Lex made in the community?

There have been several positive changes. I think putting a group together of community leaders and shareholders who are interested in the success of our highest-risk families and children has been extremely successful. First 5 Lex has also been successful with the Read to Me Libraries and the free app (available on iPhone and Android devices). Having that consistent message about the importance of Read, Talk, Play throughout the early childhood community has been successful in reaching families that we may not have been reaching in the past.


How do you hope to continue to partner with First 5 Lex in the future?

We want to continue being involved in making sure that we are reaching all of the families in our community and helping them best prepare their children for school. Helping children so that they can be as successful as possible when they get to preschool or kindergarten is extremely important to me. I feel like UK Pediatrics, Reach Out and Read and First 5 Lex share that same goal and recognize the importance of our continued partnership.


Just for fun:

What is your favorite children’s book to READ?

As a child, my favorite was The Little Red Hen. My favorite book to read to my son was The Big Red Bus by Judy Hindley - In fact, we wore it out from reading it so much. Another special book for us was Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney.


If you have an afternoon with nothing scheduled, how would you PLAY?

I love to play outside. If it’s nice outside, I would walk around and look at nature. If I stay indoors, I would choose to read books.


If you could TALK with one person, from the past or present, who would it be?

I’d love to talk to my father, who passed twelve years ago. I’d also love to talk to my maternal grandmother, who was very instrumental in my early development. While my mother worked, my grandmother would play Scrabble with me and do all kinds of things - she embodied First 5’s Read, Talk and Play message.


Thank you to Dr. Donna and everyone at UK HealthCare and Reach Out and Read who is effecting positive change through encouraging early childhood development through reading!


“A lot of people ask me why early literacy is so important to me as a pediatrician. I think it’s important that people know that the health outcome for a child who is successful in school is so much better than the health outcome for a child who isn’t. Attending to one’s physical health is important, but attending to their overall success as a person is so much more important. I’m so passionate about early childhood development because it makes such a huge difference in their health outcomes as well as their success as a person.”
-Dr. Donna Grigsby

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