Doernbecher Children's Hospital

Novel Interventions in Children's Healthcare (NICH)

Dr. Michael Harris, Clinical Director for OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital's NICH Program.
Michael Harris, Ph.D. is the director and founder of NICH. “We know that if you aren’t meeting the challenges of day-to-day life,” he says, “it really is impossible to take care of a child with a serious chronic health condition.”

OHSU’s Novel Interventions in Children’s Healthcare program helps stressed families manage a child’s complex health condition. We can help you manage issues and find resources. We can also teach you problem-solving skills.

We offer families:

  • A trained professional (interventionist) to help solve the issues that keep a child from following medical instructions.
  • A dedicated interventionist who is available 24/7.
  • Oregon’s first intensive intervention program that focuses on children.

What is NICH?

NICH is a program at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. We work with families who have:

  • A child with a complex or chronic (ongoing) health condition who is having trouble following a medical routine.
  • Limited resources.
  • Social and/or personal challenges — such as homelessness or unemployment — that disrupt the family’s ability to manage the child’s health.

Program goals

Our goal is to help families with stretched incomes improve their child’s health. We’re also seeking to:

  • Improve community health
  • Improve health care
  • Reduce health care costs

No cost to families

NICH has contracts with insurance companies to cover services for at least 12 months. Donations also help us meet families’ basic needs.

Patients and families we see

Children and their families are referred to our program by the child’s primary care doctor. Your child does not have to be a patient at Doernbecher.

Ages: We serve children and teens, along with their families, from birth to age 18 who have a complex and/or chronic health condition. Patients ages 18 to 21 are considered case by case.

Issues: Your family will benefit most from NICH services if you are trying to manage both medical and social issues

    Medical conditions

    These are among the most common conditions our patients have:

    • Type 1 diabetes
    • Seizure disorders
    • End-stage kidney disease
    • Cancer
    • Failure to thrive
    • Before or after a transplant
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Hemophilia
    • Chronic pain
    • Cardiovascular problems

    Social issues

    These are common issues families in our program face:

    • Unemployment
    • Homelessness or housing insecurity
    • Food insecurity
    • Financial problems
    • Domestic violence
    • Drug and/or alcohol problems
    • Language and/or cultural barriers
    • Social isolation
    • Issues related to immigration status
    • Trauma issues
    A NICH Interventionist and a NICH patient getting a pedicure.
    Taylor Jennison (left), 17, earned a pedicure with her interventionist, Ingrid Gomez (right), by doing a better job of managing her diabetes. “The support that NICH has provided our family is priceless,” said Taylor’s mom, Kristene.

    What to expect

    Once you are enrolled, NICH will assign an interventionist to work with your family throughout the program.

    Where: The interventionist will come to you — meeting you in the hospital, at clinic visits, at school, at your home and at other places. Your interventionist will also be available by phone, email and video chat.

    How often: Your interventionist will be available 24/7. You will have frequent contact — perhaps daily — early on. After that, you can expect to be in contact with your interventionist by text or phone as often as every day or every other day. Some families have less contact, depending on their needs and preferences. You will meet with your interventionist in person at least once every two weeks.

    Length of service: You can expect to be in the program for about 12 months, depending on your child’s and family’s needs.

    If you want to withdraw: The NICH program is voluntary, and you may leave at any time.

      Our services

      Understanding your situation

      Your interventionist starts by gathering information about why your child is having trouble following medical instructions.

      • The interventionist meets with your child’s medical team.
      • The interventionist visits your home weekly or every other week and meets with all family members living there. If you prefer, the interventionist can arrange a place to meet in the community.
      • The interventionist will also meet with nearby family and friends who have contact with you and your child.

      Coordinating care

      The interventionist is the link between your family and your medical team and other groups you are engaged with.

      • The interventionists helps with arranging appointments and coordinating your schedule.
      • Your interventionist joins you at clinic visits. The interventionist is also often present for any emergency room visit or hospital admission.
      • Your interventionist also might meet with you at school or at visits with social service or mental health providers.
      • The interventionist keeps your child’s primary care doctor and specialty providers informed about your child’s and family’s progress.

      Connecting you with resources

      The interventionist helps you find resources. The interventionist also helps you solve problems. For example:

      • If you have no way to get to and from appointments: The interventionist will work to help you get bus passes or medical transportation, and teach you how the services work. If you have car trouble, the interventionist will try to find a repair shop that will donate parts or work on it at no charge.
      • If your family is struggling with food costs and how to make healthy meals: The interventionist can help you apply for food stamps or find food pantries. The interventionist can also teach you how to buy groceries on a budget, and how to make your favorite recipes healthier.
      • If English is not your family’s main language: The interventionist will find a translator to help you with paperwork and an interpreter to help you at appointments.

      Skills training

      The interventionist teaches your family problem-solving skills so you can manage issues on your own after the program ends. For example, the interventionist can teach your family how to:

      • Prepare a list of questions for your child’s medical visits
      • Track appointments and meetings
      • Create a budget
      • Handle discipline problems effectively
      • Navigate health care, insurance, social services, school and other complex systems
      A group photo of OHSU's NICH Program staff.

      Our team

      Program director

      Clinical director

      Research director

      Interventionist supervisor

      Program manager

      Catlin Dennis, M.P.H.

      Referral and operations manager

      Brian Jones

      Senior interventionist

      Nefthaly Cisneros

      Chris Phanthavong

      Brandi Berger

      Ingrid Gomez

      Rosalie Lee

      Sasha Ruddy

      Giovanna Parker

      Aurora Silva Ramirez

      Monica Metzler

      Jessica Wells

      Stefan Saing

      Julian Caballero (Bend)

      Hannah Barclift (Bend)

      How to help the NICH program

      You can help us provide for more families and children:

      • Give money at www.ohsu.edu/nich/donate.
      • Donate new or gently used items. Many of our families need:
        • Clothing
        • Baby items (diapers, bottles, etc.)
        • Safety items (helmets, cabinet locks, car seats, etc.)
      • Donate incentive items: We use incentives such as toys and gift cards to help motivate children to follow their medical routines.
      • Give your expertise: We are always looking for people with skills in fields such as marketing, design and fundraising to help our program grow to serve more families.

      Questions about volunteering or what to donate? Email us at nichprogram@ohsu.edu.

      Dr. Michael Harris giving a NICH patient a tutorial on how to give yourself an insulin injection.
      Interventionists can teach children and their families how to better manage a health condition.

      Our excellence

      Our grants and awards include:

      • Pediatric Excellence Award, 2017, Press Ganey. The award recognizes a pediatric hospital or unit that has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to pediatric care.
      • Clinical Care Innovation (CCI) Challenge Award, 2015, the Association of American Medical Colleges. Improving Value through Clinical Transformation, Education and Science Meeting, $5,000.
      • Trillium Community Health Plan Coordinated Care Organization Transformation Grant, 2014. Pilot funding for innovative programs to help create a new health care system, $177,500.
      • CareOregon's Care Support and System Innovation (CSSI) Grant, 2011. Pilot funding to foster a culture of evidence-based practice and continuous improvement in provider organizations, $115,000.

      For families

      Enrollment: To ask about joining the NICH program, please call Brian Jones at 503-418-1162.

      Questions: Please contact Cat Dennis at 503-494-3245.

      Refer a patient

      To refer a patient and family, contact:

      Make a donation

      All donations support our most vulnerable youths and families.

      A family regains its footing

      NICH patient Taylor Jennison smiling while getting a pedicure.

      Read how the NICH program helped Taylor Jennison (right), who has diabetes, and her family. “They do the things I can’t,” says her mom, Kristene.