Why Mattel Chose an L.A. Children's Hospital for a Major Gift

UCLA Children's Hospital and Mattel believe in the healing power of play. A $50 million commitment from the children's toymaker, announced last month, will stitch its mission as a "play, learning and development" leader with UCLA's specialized approach to caring for youngsters and comforting them "when they need it most."

Mattel is giving $50 million in a long commitment to expand pediatric care and fund medical research at the hospital. The toy company famous for Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels had given $30 million over 20 years to the hospital, and this $50 million should extend that relationship past 2030. It's believed this is the largest single charitable gift ever made by the Mattel Children's Foundation. 

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Studies of pediatric patients and their parents have found that anxiety is the most common complaint when a child is hospitalized. Kids also lose their appetites, can't sleep, and can't control their emotions. They're less cooperative with doctors and nurses when they're upset and frightened, researchers have discovered. 

Healthcare professionals also must take the parents' emotions into account. Children do better when their parents feel less anxious, according to published research. Nurse Florence Nightingale, considered the founder of modern nursing, believed that children need to be treated in a therapeutic environment. "Medical" play by young patients can alleviate stress.

Mattel and the hospital say they want local children to have access to doctors and nurses who understand pediatric care, and who work toward the best health outcomes possible for sick kids. They're intent on making a hospital experience less scary, too. 

Mattel President Richard Dickson said his company's $50 million pledge is meant to "ensure that even more children and families will benefit from exceptional healthcare at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital." Sick kids in Asia and Africa will benefit from advances in pediatric medicine at the Westwood medical center as UCLA plans to launch a doctor exchange.

Mattel Children's Foundation is active in children's health around the country and now in Asia and Africa. "Mattel has generously helped create positive healing environments" at other children's hospitals with small grants to create play centers, said Amy Wimpey Knight, who is chief operating officer of the Children's Hospital Association. 

“By engaging in play whether outside on a playground or inside via technology, hospitalized children can just be kids," Knight said. Play grants totaling $377,000 have gone to children's hospitals in San Francisco, New Orleans, Baltimore, the Bronx, Dallas, Milwaukee, Hackensack, N.J., and Long Beach, Calif. 

The funding will allow the university to form physician exchanges and research partnerships in  China, Indonesia, India and South Africa. A spokeswoman with the L.A.-based children's hospital told Inside Philanthropy that UCLA doctors will visit hospitals in those countries periodically to lecture and do clinical work. Visiting specialists will do clinical fellowships in Los Angeles, and spend one to three months observing the practices and techniques of the UCLA Children's Hospital staff.

"The visiting physicians will then be prepared to return to their home institutions to teach their colleagues what they have learned at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital," she said.   

UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital is a 90-bed inpatient unit, plus an outpatient Children's Health Center. The hospital serves more than 34,000 patients each year, according to the university.

Mattel Children's Foundation concentrates its giving in California, New York, Connecticut and the District of Columbia, and overseas in Latin America, Asian and Europe. The toymaker isn't accepting unsolicited grant applications at this time, according to its web site. Mattel has an affinity for children's hospitals. This latest grant making can provide UCLA's teaching and research hospital with capital to build a "kids-only" healthcare system that's right-sized. 

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