Assemblyman Santabarbara Pitches Pilot Program in State Budget to Make Emergency Rooms in Hospitals Autism-Friendly

Partnership will create first Sensory-Friendly Emergency Room at Ellis Medicine, Autism Response Teams, customized plans for patients with Autism
March 8, 2019

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, Chair of the Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders, authored a new program that seeks to improve the medical diagnosis and treatment for individuals with Autism Spectrum and related disorders in hospitals and emergency rooms. About 1 in 59 children are now born with autism each year in the United States and more than 3.5 million Americans are living with an autism spectrum disorder. Patients with autism often have special needs that can create barriers to successfully receiving needed medical care for health issues that arise.

If approved in the upcoming state budget, Santabarbara’s proposal would establish the state’s first sensory friendly emergency room and integrated autism response team training pilot program to better serve patients with autism. The integrated sensory friendly emergency room would provide for the sensory needs of patients with autism and their families. The treatment areas would provide a quieter setting, dimmed lighting and a number of other sensory items that can make a significant difference in treating patients with autism.

The program would include training to establish integrated Autism Response Teams in emergency rooms that can assist patients with autism and their families to help identify the special needs of patients with autism related to environment, feeding, communication or other various criteria. The training would provide medical staff with the detailed information they need to help ensure that the patient's needs are met to the greatest extent possible.

Santabarbara is partnering with the administrators of Ellis Medicine in Schenectady to establish the pilot program as a model for all hospitals in New York State.

“Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it can affect people in a variety of ways, making each person's needs unique,” said Assemblyman Santabarbara. “For patients with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, sometimes little things can make a really big difference, whether it’s speaking softly or changing the lighting in the room. Implementing cross-trained Autism Response Teams from existing medical staff will greatly improve diagnosis and treatment for patients with autism in hospitals and emergency rooms.”

“Those affected with an Autism Spectrum Disorder often need help understanding information and preparing for new situations,” said Janine Kruiswijk, Executive Director of the Autism Society of the Greater Capital Region. “Establishing a trained team that is knowledgeable about autism can advise physicians and other staff on how to best communicate with patients to provide the best and safest care possible.”

“We have long worked to ensure our physicians and staff are prepared to meet the needs of diverse populations,” said Paul Milton, president and CEO of Ellis Medicine. “And we are constantly striving to both improve patient experiences and enhance the quality of care we deliver. That’s why we’ve made autism awareness and specialized communications for patients with autism spectrum disorder a key priority.”

“At Ellis Medicine, we are headed in the right direction,” said Christopher S. Burky, MD, Chair of the Ellis Medicine Department of Psychiatry. “In the Department of Psychiatry, for instance, we continue to work with our staff on how to communicate with patients with ASD, and how to accommodate a range of specialized needs. Assemblyman Santabarbara’s proposal promises to give a meaningful boost to the training of medical staff. 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.”