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New Program at Winthrop Hospital Helps Children with Special Needs

The S.T.A.R. program at Winthrop University Hospital is designed for families whose children have special needs.
The S.T.A.R. program at Winthrop University Hospital is designed for families whose children have special needs.

Entering a hospital or health-care facility can be difficult, especially for a child with special needs. Recognizing these challenges, Winthrop Pediatric Associates has launched the S.T.A.R. (Special Kids Treatment and Referral) program.

The program assists families of children with Down syndrome or who are on the autism spectrum by providing knowledge and positive coping strategies throughout the hospital experience.

To date, 76 families are enrolled in the program, a welcome addition to families whose children have special needs.  

“Every time my son needed to get a test done, or anything on that level, I cringed with dread and fear,” one parent stated.  “S.T.A.R. has changed that." 

Hospital officials say S.T.A.R.’s mission is to provide the highest quality care to all children in a compassionate, family-centered, coordinated care environment. The program works directly with the child life program, which sends a child life specialist to meet the patient in need.  This specialist is trained in child development and meeting the special needs of children who are ill. Through play, education, and support, these specialists aim to build a special, trusting relationship with the pediatric patient while helping them to understand and adjust to hospitalization through age-appropriate explanations.

The S.T.A.R program works to overcome fear and anxiety that the hospital, inpatient procedure or visit may cause, while minimizing stress. The goal is to make both the patient and families’ experience positive. The patients that qualify for the S.T.A.R. program are identified by hospital physicians and other healthcare providers. These patients are then referred to Lori Martin, the program's director, who provides parents and patients with information and enrolls them into the program if they wish. 

The paperwork provides detailed patient preferences, such as likes and dislikes, fears and stressors, diagnoses, contact and demographic information. These details enable S.T.A.R. to create an environment in which care is the priority. For some patients, that may mean having beds that play music to make the environment more like home. For other patients, it can mean having the medical professionals come into the room without lab coats can help alleviate their fear of doctors. The distractions help take the patient’s mind off the stressful events and bring comfort to the situation.

Frederick Daum, Winthrop’s chief of pediatric gastroenterology hepatology, nutrition, was the first physician to identify the need for the program at Winthrop. In 2009, Daum was caring for a patient on the autism spectrum who was scheduled to come for an outpatient procedure. Through the services of Winthrop’s child life team, the process limited the stress on the patient and the family, and making possible a successful and timely procedure.

This experience inspired him to create S.T.A.R. Since then, the program has developed a team that facilitates each visit of a special needs patient, from admission to discharge, or from check-in to completion for both inpatient and outpatient visits. In this patient-driven program, patients or parents can reach out to to the program when they want to coordinate an upcoming visit or on the way to the emergency room.

Unexpected occurrences happen daily in pediatrics, officials say. They noted that recently, a parent rushed her son on the autism spectrum to Winthrop-University Hospital’s emergency room after he had cut himself and needed stitches. The parent called the S.T.A.R. program contact number, and a Winthrop child life specialist met them in the emergency room. The specialist stayed with them until the stitches were completed and the family was ready to go home. 

For more information on this program or to enroll, contact Lori Martin at 516-663-2112o r Lamartin@winthrop.org; or Nicole Almeida at 516-663-2761 or Nalmeida@winthrop.org. Find additional information regarding the program and enrollment.

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