VINELAND — Officials with South Jersey Healthcare Regional Medical Center said they have a new place to help children in need of medical care other than the sometimes hurried, scary setting of an adult emergency room.

The medical center on Sherman Avenue on Wednesday held the ceremonial opening of its $550,000 Dr. Joseph Zeccardi Pediatric Emergency Department.

The eight-bed department features specialized equipment and examination stations and a child-friendly waiting room. The department is painted in light shades of blue and tan, and its walls, courtesy of the staff, are decorated with fish, turtles and other aquatic life. Children can watch cartoons on televisions while they are being treated, and can also get stickers, crayons and huggable stuffed bears.

“We all know that a trip to the (emergency room) can be stressful for anyone,” said Elizabeth Sheridan, the medical center’s chief operating officer. “For children and their parents, it can be especially trying. It is our sincere hope that our new pediatric emergency department will make the experience less stressful for the entire family.”

The unit opened in October and, so far, parents are happy with its operation, hospital officials said.

“Parents tell us how much they love it,” said registered nurse Leslie Neely, a Gloucester County resident who works in the unit.

Neely said parents like not having to expose their children to some of the unpleasant goings on, such as foul language from patients, that occur in the regular emergency room.

Having an emergency unit dedicated solely for children makes those youths more relaxed and easier to diagnose and treat, said Chief Pediatric Hospitalist and Atlantic City resident Avian Tisdale. Having all the youths in one spot also prevents the pediatric staff from having to move around a sometimes crowded regular emergency room to get to their youthful patients, she said.

Medical center officials said the hospital receives between 9,000 and 11,000 pediatric visits annually. Youths come to the hospital for everything from a bump on the elbow to life-threatening issues, Tisdale said.

The unit currently operates from noon to midnight, the time which hospital officials said is the busiest for children seeking emergency medical help. Operating hours for the unit, which is located next to the regular emergency department, could change based on demand, officials said.

The unit is staffed by a mix of South Jersey Healthcare emergency medicine physicians, specially trained nurses and pediatric hospitalists from the Nemours-Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. Part of that staff is at the hospital around the clock.

The unit opened only a year after the medical center opened the Deborah F. Sager Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

Pediatric Nurse Supervisor Dawn O’Neill said those units provide services for which many residents in the region must travel out of state to obtain. Many of those residents do not have easy access to transportation, she said.

“That causes a hardship for families who have to go to Wilmington or Philadelphia,” she said.

The new pediatrics emergency department is named after the man who served as South Jersey Healthcare’s chairman of emergency medicine from 1998 to 2004.

“Doctor Zeccardi’s dedication to providing the best quality care to (South Jersey Healthcare) patients never waivered and his instilled that value in each and every physician he worked with,” said Dr. Scott Wagner, who now holds Zeccardi’s position.

Contact Thomas Barlas:

609-226-9197