SCHENECTADY -- The emergency room at Schenectady's Ellis Hospital has become the first E.R. in the nation to earn designation as a certified autism center.
The new "CAC" status, granted by the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES), was announced Thursday by hospital officials and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.
The CAC designation requires hospital staff to complete autism training and certification and make accommodations such as quieter settings and dimmed lighting for patients with sensory needs.
Paul Milton, president and chief executive officer of Ellis Medicine, said Centers for Disease Control figures show that one in 45 adults are on the autism spectrum. For children, the diagnosis ratio is one in 54.
"Individuals with autism are more likely to visit the E.R. and many need specialized care to ensure the communication plan, the pain management plan and that treatment is effective," Milton said during a press conference held outdoors at the hospital.
"As we know, autism is a spectrum disorder, so individuals' experience can vary widely," Milton said. "It's the training and certification that provides for best practices as well as understanding how to work with patients and where they are on the spectrum."
Dr. Rob McHugh, who chairs the department of emergency medicine at Ellis, said he and his colleagues are proud to be the first certified autism center in the nation.
"But it goes beyond being first," he said. "What is most crucial about today's announcement is that we are taking an important step toward improving the E.R. experience for those on the spectrum. Anyone familiar with bringing a patient here to an emergency department who is on the spectrum, or treating them, knows there can be a fine edge between a pleasant encounter and a stress- and anxiety-filled experience."
For Ellis, officials said, 80 percent of staffers have received training to deal with autistic patients.
Santabarbara, chairman of the Assembly's subcommittee on autism spectrum disorders, came to Ellis with the idea for a certified center. He secured $30,000 in state funding for the Ellis pilot program.
Santabarbara said his 18-year-old son Michael lives with autism. He said he has been through challenging emergency room experiences with the teen.
Santabarbara also said he has heard some families with autistic children found their E.R. experiences so traumatic they would not return.
"We're going to change all that with what we're doing here today," Santabarbara said. "These specially designed treatment areas provide a quieter setting, dimmed lighting and a number of other sensory-controlled measures that are going to significantly improve outcomes.
"It doesn't stop there," Santabarbara added, "because there is also training that goes along with it. That's a big component of what we're doing here, the specialized training for the hospital staff is going to lead to improved diagnoses, treatment and the assistance for the patients and their families to make sure unique needs are met to the greatest extend possible."
Dr. Stephen Shore, an autism advocate and member of the IBCCES board, said the Ellis center is an "amazing first step" toward changing the care and culture in the country's emergency rooms.
"So many of us on the spectrum become frequent visitors and miss that key piece of understanding from medical staff, which leads to extended treatment and exam time and even misdiagnosis," Shore said, in an Ellis press release.
Santabarbara said parents with autistic children may have stayed away from hospitals during the COVID-19 crisis.
"They just can't get through the barriers to actually get what is needed, even if it's a COVID test," he said. "How do you administer a COVID test to someone like my son who has autism if you can't address the sensory needs first? Those are the barriers that can be eliminated and we're going to show the world here how we can eliminate those barriers and we can reduce those hospital stays."
Contact staff writer Jeff Wilkin at 518-641-8400 or at [email protected]