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Cooper University Health Care to enhance care for patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities

Camden-based Cooper University Health Care is developing a wide-ranging program to enhance care for patients with intellectual and development disabilities, funded in part by a $2 million grant from the New Jersey Department of Human Services.

“We know that the hospital experience can be especially challenging for patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities. We are grateful to the New Jersey Department of Human Services for this significant grant, which will allow us to address the unique needs of this patient population,” Kevin O’Dowd, co-CEO of Cooper, said.

“This critical funding enables Cooper to take a multipronged, systematic approach to making our programs and services more amenable to patients and families with intellectual and developmental disabilities. By focusing on numerous initiatives, we can create a more positive patient experience and better outcomes,” Dr. Anthony Mazzarelli, co-CEO of Cooper, stated.

Examples of I/DD include cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorders. These disorders affect the senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) or how the brain processes or interprets information from the senses.

Cooper’s new program will include staff and provider education, improved care coordination through enhancements to Cooper’s electronic medical record system, the construction of multisensory rooms in key units and departments throughout the hospital and the development and use of mobile carts containing a variety of sensory tools that can be used to both calm and stimulate the sensory systems of patients with I/DD.

The first educational component of the program was launched earlier this spring with a conference co-sponsored by Cooper, Bancroft and Autism New Jersey. The program brought together more than 100 health care professionals from throughout the region to focus on improving the health care landscape for people with autism and I/DD.

Most recently, Cooper hired a specially trained navigator dedicated to the care of patients with I/DD and began providing specialized training for all Cooper inpatient and ambulatory care nurses, critical care techs and other clinical team members to better understand best practices and protocols for caring for patients with I/DD.

These educational efforts coincide with the development of a patient registry within the health system’s EMR system, which will help clinicians document patients’ specific needs for better coordination of care.

A central component of Cooper’s plans is the creation of numerous multisensory rooms in key areas throughout its hospital campus, including the Emergency Department, radiology, inpatient adult and other units.

The sensory-friendly rooms are therapeutic spaces with special lighting, weighted blankets, noise-canceling headphones, and other equipment and features to help calm and focus patients so they can better interact with the care team.

The first of these specialized spaces will open in late summer 2023.

In tandem with the multisensory rooms, Cooper is also developing several mobile sensory carts with similar equipment and tools that can be deployed to any patient room or unit to help patients during potentially overwhelming or overstimulating experiences at the hospital.

“The hospital experience can be very stressful, very anxiety-provoking, and also includes lots of sensory elements that can be challenging for any person,” explained Dr. Franziska Jovin, chief experience officer at Cooper. “Together, these measures will help us preventatively address these issues for patients with more acute sensory needs to avoid further stress, anxiety and agitation so they can access their medical care and their family can feel more comfortable.”

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