SCHENECTADY -- An effort to improve the care for patients with autism in hospital emergency rooms is being pioneered by Ellis Medicine and could serve as a model for other hospitals in the state, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said.
The pilot program is being funded in the new state budget and was proposed by Santabarbara.
His goal is to have hospitals train internal autism response teams, and also offer low-sensor treatment rooms with an emergency room.
"Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it can affect people in a variety of ways, making each person's needs unique," Santabarbara said. "For patients with an autism spectrum disorder, sometimes little things can make a big difference, whether it's speaking softly or changing the lighting in the room."
The new budget includes $30,000 for establishing low-sensory treatment rooms, training staff, and collecting data that could be used to expand the program to hospital emergency rooms statewide, Santabarbara said.
Santabarbara is chairman of the state Assembly's Subcommittee on Autism Spectrum Disorders. He has an autistic son, and often advocates for people with autism.
The assemblyman said the program seeks to improve the medical diagnosis and treatment of individuals with autism in hospitals and emergency rooms. In general, he said, people with autism are more likely than the general population to go to emergency rooms, and then more likely to be admitted, and once admitted, they have longer stays.
Ellis officials said the pilot program is part of meeting the diverse needs of people who come to the hospital.
"We are constantly striving to both improve patient experiences and enhance the quality of care we deliver," said Ellis President and CEO Paul Milton. "That's why we've made autism awareness and specialized communications for patients with autism-spectrum disorder a key priority."
"Being able to deploy a team that's knowledgeable about the disorder across the entire Ellis system will be a tremendous resource, and go a long way in improving the patient experience for those with autism," said Dr. Christopher S. Burky, chairman of the Ellis Medicine Department of Psychiatry.