Daryl Steiner, D.O.’75, leader of a hospital’s center designed specifically to care for abused kids, leaves with pride
By Nick Glunt, Akron Beacon Journal staff writer
Dr. Daryl Steiner’s colleagues at Akron Children’s Hospital have called him a pioneer and a visionary in the field of child abuse evaluation and treatment.
Steiner’s more humble than that, though.
“As I look back over my career, I can see we’ve done a good job,” Steiner said in a conference room in the hospital’s Locust Building, where he heads the Children at Risk Evaluation (CARE) Center. “The best thing I did was hire good people.”
Steiner announced plans to retire Thursday [Dec. 31, 2015] after 40 years with the hospital. When he began his career in 1975, the CARE Center didn’t even exist — and now the hospital has a space the size of a small private practice dedicated to its work.
From closet to CARE
The CARE Center was established three decades ago as a means to afford families privacy and consistency in cases of physical and sexual child abuse.
“Originally when I started, physicians treated abused children in the emergency department,” he said. “That didn’t lend well to privacy or consistency.
“EDs are chaotic. They’re hardly the place to evaluate a child subjected to abuse — especially sexual abuse.”
The hospital in 1987 afforded a small space as a private area to evaluate victims of abuse. The only problem was the space was no more than a closet: an office area in front and an evaluation room behind, all fit into a 12-by-14-foot space.
“It’s been quite a change from our closet to this space,” Steiner said in the Locust Building, which houses several rooms and offices for the CARE Center.
Steiner said it’s good the department expanded so much because the work the center does is important to the lifelong health of the children it serves.
“Child abuse — whether it’s physical or sexual abuse — is one of the problems that affects a child’s well-being through a lifetime,” Steiner said. “It doesn’t go away. It affects them as they mature into adolescents and then into adulthood.”
The doctor, who was named director of the CARE Center in 1991, said adults who were abused as children have an estimated life expectancy that’s 20 years shorter than the general population. That’s because abused children are more likely as they grow into adults to engage in high-risk behavior like substance abuse, violence and unprepared pregnancy. As a result, they’re more likely to suffer health complications like disease of the lungs, heart, kidney and liver, as well as mental health issues like depression and suicidal thoughts.
“They carry their abuse with them through their lives,” he said. “But if these adverse childhood events are recognized and treated while they’re still children, then the effects are lessened as they go forward in life. That’s the focus of our work now: We want to recognize those adverse childhood events before they become crises.”
The CARE Center evaluates and treats children subjected to abuse by providing space to perform procedures and interviews in private. Children are questioned by social workers while doctors and police observe through a one-way mirror.
Children are then brought to evaluation rooms where procedures are performed to identify and document what ails them.
Steiner said the space in the Locust Building is optimal because it’s so different from the emergency department that used to treat abused children.
“It’s accessible, but away from the mainstream of the hospital. It feels safe here,” he said. “I think when a child comes in here, they sense that right away.”
Over the years, Steiner has led the center’s expansion to include clinical services in seven Northeast Ohio counties other than Summit.
He said the CARE Center expanded as Akron Children’s acquired more properties, which was often overwhelming.
“It became a significant responsibility,” he said. “Every time the hospital expanded, I’d think, ‘Oh man!’”
Steiner said part of the reason the CARE Center gathered so much influence was the rising awareness of child abuse over the past few decades.
“I think the biggest change for the better has been awareness of the problem,” he said. “The public is more aware of the issue of child abuse, and they’ve recognized that it’s a problem to be dealt with.”
He said awareness has made the public more likely to recognize abuse is occurring, leading to greater levels of reporting. As a result, the CARE Center was treating more children and both the hospital and professional accreditors recognized its importance.
“Child abuse — whether it’s physical or sexual abuse — is one of the problems that affects a child’s well-being through life…But if these adverse childhood events are recognized and treated while they’re still children, then the effects are lessened as they go forward in life.”
In 2005, the center earned status as an Accredited Child Advocacy Center by the National Children’s Alliance. In 2007, child abuse pediatrics became a certified subspecialty by the American Board of Pediatrics. Then, in 2009, the CARE Center added mental health services for child abuse victims after receiving a grant.
Steiner said he couldn’t have accomplished what he did without a strong staff to support him. He thanked nurse Gail Graise and nurse practitioner Donna Abbott for their aid over the years.
“This has been really a team effort, to bring it from a closet to a regional care facility for Northeast Ohio,” he said. “The three of us were the nucleus.”
Due to the nature of Steiner’s position, he often found himself working side-by-side with law enforcement and social workers. He said he couldn’t have asked for better colleagues.
“It’s been a great experience, right from the beginning,” he said. “That said, it’s gotten better.”
He said as the CARE Center grew to learn more about child abuse, police began to handle the cases with more care.
Steiner said he’d miss working alongside them, and his colleagues in law enforcement echoed the sentiment.
Akron police Lt. Brian Harding has worked with Steiner for 14 years as a supervisor for the Juvenile Bureau.
“When we have big cases, he’s the go-to guy to talk with at Akron Children’s Hospital,” Harding said. “He’s always great to work with.”
Harding said Steiner’s defining attribute is his passion for the job.
“He genuinely cares about the kids, and trying to make them whole,” Harding said. “He always has a smile despite the horrible things he has to see and deal with on the job.”
Akron Police Detective Jerry Gachett agreed.
“I’m going to miss his professionalism and his passion for his job and for the children,” Gachett said. “He’s got a great zeal for life.”
Gachett said it was always a pleasure to work with Steiner because of his vast knowledge in the field.
“It’s not a knock on other doctors, but his knowledge and his experience make him an authority,” he said. “Having the opportunity to work with him was a privilege.”
Harding and Gachett said Steiner played an important part in prosecuting child abusers and also ensuring innocent people weren’t convicted.
“There have been several times where an injury looks really severe, but it turns out not to be abuse,” Harding said. “And there were other times when he was able to make disclosures about cases that led to us setting up timelines and getting people prosecuted for abuse.
“We’ve been very lucky to have him.”
After Steiner finishes his final day on the job, he said he intends to keep busy.
“I have a whole list of things I’ve put a hold on over the years that I just couldn’t get to with a career and a family,” he said.
Steiner intends to continue his education with liberal arts college courses, including fields like literature, history, philosophy and foreign language.
“In med school, those were just things I never got to really experience,” said Steiner, who obtained his medical degree from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and Surgery in Des Moines, IA. “They put you on a track and it’s hard to divert.”
He also said he wants to explore more of his hobbies, which include woodworking, gardening, tennis, golf and boating.
“I’ll finally have time for those things,” he said. “I’ll no longer have the parent of work to tell me what to do and when.”
Finally, he said he wants to spend more time with his family. His wife, Sue, works as a mental health technician at Akron Children’s Psychiatric Intake Response Center. The couple has four children and one grandchild, with another grandchild on the way.
Steiner said he’ll miss helping children. It was something he always wanted to do, he said.
“I always hated taking care of adults,” Steiner said. “Even now, every day, the kids make me laugh. I have a good time coming into work as a result.”
He said he can look back on his time at the hospital with pride.
“I’ve had a good run. I have no regrets,” Steiner said. “I can walk away feeling I’ve had a successful professional career.”
This article appeared in the Akron Beacon Journal on Dec. 28, 2015, and is reprinted with permission of the Akron Beacon Journal and Ohio.com. It was sent to DMU Magazine by Jack Bradford, D.O.’78, a retired emergency medicine physician who also considers Steiner a “pioneer in his field.”