Voorhees Pediatric Facility provides home for medically fragile children


Courtesy of Russell Turco

East Student Lizzie Le (’23) and VPF resident pose for a photo.

Since first opening its doors in 1982, the Voorhees Pediatric Facility (VPF) has served as a special care nursing facility to provide holistic care for medically fragile children, from newborn to age 21. The facility’s residents typically have complex medical conditions and thus need access to constant specialized care. The facility is a full-time home for these children, allowing them to learn and thrive in an environment designed to meet their needs.

“Each kid presents their own sets of unique challenges for us and we just take them one at a time,” said Gary Pizzichillo, the administrator of Voorhees Pediatric Facility. VPF provides a comprehensive array of therapy services: respiratory therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy.

Beyond the facility itself, the VPF organization also lends its services to a number of local school districts through rehab contracts. VPF therapists work at schools that are lacking the therapy services to help compensate for this shortage.

Currently, VPF provides care to 110 residential patients — children who all live at the facility full time. An additional 24 kids bus in each day for the facility’s Medical Day Care, where they can go through the school day while also receiving their needed medical attention and care.

Each day, just like any other child, VPF’s patients get ready for, and attend school at the facility’s in-house Bancroft School, a local school program focused on Special Education. In between their therapy sessions, the children learn, play, and do ordinary kid things.

“[Sometimes I’ll] just be working during the day and hear music blasting, and I’ll go outside and there’s a DJ and all the kids are out there with a dance party out of nowhere, unplanned,” said Pizzichillo. From weekly outings to the movies, to the mall, or even just to get a haircut, the facility does their best to get the patients out in the community and allow them to make the same fun memories as other children.

The WAVE program, although currently on temporary hold due to Covid-19, is one initiative that VPF organizes to achieve this goal. Due to medical reasons, many of the children at VPF have never been able to do things that others may think of as everyday and ordinary, such as going out and feeling the rain or swimming. The WAVE program brings the VPF children down to the shore, along with an entire medical team, so that the children can experience the feeling of a wave flowing by and the feeling of sand between their toes for the first time.

“The great part about this facility is that yes, [the children] get to go to school, they get the care they need… but the staff here really strive to make everyday a happy day,” said Pizzichillo. “They strive to create the atmosphere and the memories and the experiences that all of us get to experience everyday and take for granted.”

Many nurses at VPF have been working there for twenty to thirty years, and some have even been with the facility since its inception.

“Just like a parent, these nurses and clinicians know these children like they’re their own children,” said Pizzichillo. “They know the signs and symptoms when they’re not feeling good just like I would with my sons or daughter, they are really invested in these children.”

A volunteer and VPF resident play a fishing game together. (Courtesy of Russell Turco)

Furthermore, Pizzichillo added, “there are countless numbers of examples” where foster children being cared for at Voorhees Pediatric Facility have found a forever home with one of the staff or caregivers who decided to adopt them.

“That happens pretty normally over the years,” said Pizzichillo, “where these children are now with a caregiver that had them on their assignment and is now their son or daughter. That’s a beautiful thing.”

In addition to nurses and therapists, the VPF team also includes over a hundred volunteers, many of whom are high school students.

“It’s rewarding knowing that people may not get to visit [the kids] very often [and] you’re keeping them company [and] having fun with them,” said East student Lizzie Le (‘23), who has been volunteering at VPF since 2020. Volunteers like Le help out by keeping the kids engaged and active: for example, they sing and dance together and play games, from “Candyland” to “Sorry!” to “Connect 4”.

“There’s this one girl who has a lot of sass and keeps beating me at every board game,” laughed Le. “I’m trying so hard to win but I just keep losing at Uno […] it puts it in perspective that they’re just as capable.”

Even with facilities like VPF, however, medical accessibility remains challenging for many children. When compared to that of adults, the availability of local medical treatments is lacking: sometimes there may only be one option for one of VPF’s patients to receive their needed treatment, says Pizzichillo, and it is hours away in North Jersey.

Nevertheless, although there are still roadblocks to be overcome, the Voorhees Pediatric Facility is helping children with medical conditions live life to the fullest — one therapy session, one impromptu dance party, and one smile at a time.