Doc aims to serve and protect in his work with abused kids
Monday Profiles are published on the first Monday of each month.
DANVILLE - Dr. Pat Bruno has a heartfelt answer when asked what first drove him to help abused children, and why he continues to do so decades later as the medical director of the Child Advocacy Center (CAC) of the Central Susquehanna Valley.
"Most of the people in my generation who do this, we didn't choose it," said Bruno, a Geisinger Medical Center (GMC) pediatrician. "It was something that chose us."
"Nobody was doing it," he added. "Nobody else wanted to do it."
Earlier this month, Bruno, 69, of Selinsgrove, earned a pediatric child abuse certification from the American Board of Pediatrics. He is one of eight doctors in Pennsylvania and 275 nationally to earn board certification in this speciality.
Bruno, who joined Geisinger in 2004 as a general pediatrician and medical director of the CAC, has evaluated more than 5,000 children who have been referred for an evaluation of child maltreatment from a 30-county area in central Pennsylvania.
He is a graduate of Juniata College and Rutgers University, and earned his medical degree from Penn State Hershey College of Medicine. He serves on the American Board of Pediatrics, a fellow in the American Academy of Pediatrics and a member of the Pennsylvania Academy of Pediatrics.
A model from California
Bruno, who grew up in Allentown, and his wife, Lois, have been married for 45 years. The Selinsgrove couple has two children: 42-year-old Christopher, an ophthalmologist from New Jersey; and 36-year-old Carrie, a geologist from Nevada; and four grandchildren, all under the age of 10.
Bruno started his private practice in 1979 in across the street from the Sunbury Community Hospital. He then worked for a time for Evangelical Community Hospital at a clinic along Route 522 near Selinsgrove until 2004, when he joined Geisinger's team.
When he first opened his practice 35 years ago, he was the only pediatrician in Northumberland County, and he started seeing more and more cases referred to him from Children and Youth (C&Y) Services.
The county was leading the state in actual child abuse cases and reported cases per capita by at least four times, he said.
Bruno got more training in California, brought back a model that is still used to this day and established the Center for Child Protection in the Sunbury hospital in the early 1990s.
He started seeing children in his lunch hour at the hospital.
Before the new model, when children were thought to be abused, they would be subjected to multiple interviews by C&Y, police officers and the district attorney's office, and then Bruno would interview the child and do a physical examination.
"We would end up re-victimizing the kid all over again with these interviews. By the time it got to court, the child was talking like an adult, and wasn't very credible," Bruno said Wednesday while discussing his career at his office at the Knapper Clinic, a division of Janet Weis Children's Hospital.
With the new model, the child is interviewed once in a child-friendly place, and those from any other agency that would need to be aware of the interview can watch through a one-way mirror or view a video recording of it later.
"Everything is brought together right away. What used to take weeks or months can now be done in a short matter of time, and then we can get the kid into healing," he said.
Eventually, the program needed to expand, and the CAC was established at Geisinger, and Bruno hired at its leader.
Asked about the emotional toll of seeing children suffer, he said, "You deal with it, you move on, you try to be a little bit better tomorrow than you were today. You try to make their lives, the children's lives, a little bit better than they were today."
Statistics don't tell
Girls under 18 have a one in four chance of being abused while boys have a one in 10 chance, Bruno said.
The male statistics might be skewed, though, due to boys being less likely to disclose abuse, he said.
Abusers are often someone the child knows and loves, he said.
Kids are resilient and they often recover from physical and psychological abuse if they are removed from the situation and entered into counseling.
"We're trying to do the best job possible. It's difficult," he said.
The problem of child abuse is out there, and Bruno doesn't expect it to go away, but changing laws in the state are addressing the problem, he said.
In 2012, Pennsylvania's documented child abuse cases were minimal compared to the surrounding states: Pennsylvania had 375; Delaware, 700; New Jersey, 3,000; and Ohio, 9,000, Bruno said.
"Something's wrong," he said.
The problem is Pennsylvania's definition is so narrow that it was skewing the numbers; therefore, funding for the problem was being taken away, he said.
Mount Carmel-resident Barbara Thomas, a nursing team leader, has worked with Bruno for 10 years.
"He does a wonderful job. He does the nicest exams and puts people at ease. He knows what he's doing so much," she said.
The American Board of Medical of Medical Specialities approved the child abuse pediatrics specialty in 2006 and the American Board of Pediatrics issued the first certification exams in November 2009. In order to achieve board certification, candidates must complete a prerequisite residency program or obtain comparable experience, and then pass the child abuse board examination.
Michael Ryan, chairman of Geisinger's Janet Weis Hospital, said in a media release that it's an important credential in both the legal and clinical settings.
"This board certification provides an additional endorsement for Dr. Bruno as one of the leading specialists in child abuse care and treatment across the country," he said.
Bruno will receive the Dr. Charles P. Fasano, D.O., Memorial Medical Hero Award from the American Red Cross of the Susquehanna Valley during a breakfast at the Country Cupboard, Lewisburg, on Friday, March 21.