Ari Cohen, MD, is chief of pediatric emergency medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. In a recent interview, he shared his thoughts on the renovations that will improve care for patients and their families and discussed Mass General’s response to the 2013 Boston Marathon tragedy.

What’s new in pediatric medicine at Mass General?

Dr. Cohen: In 2014, the Division of Pediatric Emergency Services is scheduled to move into a newly renovated space that will increase our square footage and improve the physical design. The new space features six private exam rooms surrounding a central work station as well as a new waiting room, made possible by Alli and Bill Achtmeyer. The waiting room is special because it’s the first time pediatric patients and their families will have their own space that is separate from adult emergency patients. The new waiting room will help us because we’ll be closer to our patients and, therefore, able to treat them more efficiently. We will have our own storage space, reducing the time staff spends retrieving bandages and sutures. And we’ll have a stretcher that we can use to rapidly treat patients with minor illnesses and injuries so they can go home as soon as possible. Five of the six exam rooms were made possible by individual donors and the Storybook Ball Committee. We are so appreciative.

“The waiting room is special because it’s the first time pediatric patients and their families will have their own space that is separate from adult emergency patients.”

What is special about the new space?

Dr. Cohen: The entire space is designed so that our child patients feel comfortable. We have taken into account every part of their experience in emergency services. Waiting for treatment can be difficult and stressful, so the exam rooms will have distraction mechanisms built in – specialized ceiling tiles with colors and shapes, made possible by Lisa and Jim Mooney, and televisions with more channels. One patient can watch Dora while another watches Scooby Doo. We’ll be stocked with baby bottles and popsicles. And of course, the space will have rounded corners and safe electrical outlets.

Where were you on Marathon Monday?

Dr. Cohen: In a medical tent in Wellesley with colleagues who are members of a federal disaster management team. We were volunteering, not for disaster management, but to help out with the marathon. We treated about 80 patients and were packing up when we saw the news on a fire station TV. I felt helpless. I’m trained to take care of people when bad things happen – whether it’s trauma or sickness – but when it really happened, I was 16 miles away. Last year I was at the finish line.

Why didn’t Mass General receive more pediatric patients that day?

Dr. Cohen: The vast majority of the injured were adults. And Boston is fortunate. The city has five Adult Level 1 Trauma Centers and three Pediatric Level I Trauma Centers within a couple of miles. The EMS controller did what was best by spreading patients among several hospitals so victims were seen as quickly as possible and no one system was overwhelmed. Despite Mass General having the resources to deal with child victims, the need just wasn’t there. Mass General saw 29 adult patients and two pediatric patients, who were defined as pediatric because they were under the age of 20. Some MGH pediatric and orthopedic surgeons helped care for adult trauma victims.

What did the Boston medical community learn from the marathon tragedy?

Dr. Cohen: We train for these events. The fact that all of the resources were there at the finish line saved lives. Every hospital received the same number of sick patients. No one who arrived at an emergency department alive, died. The patients at MGH went to the operating room within 10 minutes of arriving at the emergency department. We, at Mass General, continue to learn from events like this to be better, to be more efficient, to be that much more prepared for the next time, God forbid, something like this happens.

“I like interacting with people in crisis. I like the investigative part, being able to glean clues from sometimes vague complaints.”

Why do you enjoy pediatric emergency medicine?

Dr. Cohen: I like to know a little bit about everything. I like not knowing what’s going to walk through the door next. I like interacting with people in crisis. I like the investigative part, being able to glean clues from sometimes vague complaints. A fever can be anything from a cold to pneumonia, to a urinary tract infection to malaria. Pediatric medicine is almost like looking for a needle in a haystack because 90 percent of our patients are very well. The skill is picking out the kid who requires urgent attention. It’s the best job in the world. I see people made better in a short timeframe. I see the relief in parents’ eyes when I figure out and alleviate their concern about their child. That’s why I do what I do.