The help that hospitals and doctors offer often extends well beyond medical care.

 

While the pediatricians do the well-baby check-ups at Nemours Pediatrics in Wilmington, Del. care coordinator Michael DiSalvo helps young parents find transportation or tells them where to get a free car seat.

The practice just added a family resource room, where patients and others from the neighborhood can use the Internet free of charge.

"The vision is you can come in anytime you want because problems come up between medical visits and sometimes problems prevent people from getting their children to medical visits," he said.

The offices stay busy.

"Little children are running around, it's more like a community center than a pediatrician's office to me,"DiSalvo said.

The traditional definition of health care is expanding, according to New Jersey Hospital Association spokeswoman Kerry McKean Kelly.

She says hospitals in her state now offer literacy classes for new immigrants, Internet safety lessons for teens, and programs targeting unsafe pedestrian intersections.

"Many times health system don't seek to get paid for this type of things," Kelly said. "That cost to hospitals is just absorbed as part of taking care of their community."

In a recent survey the association tried to attach a dollar value to non-health care community program, and Kelly says their value in New Jersey is more thatn $366 million dollars.

Under the federal health law, nonprofit medical centers now have to keep tabs on the geographic community they serve and adopt a plan showing how they are helping to meet those needs.