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Monica Prinzing, Communications Specialist, Valley Children’s Healthcare

California Hospital Eases Experience for Children with Autism



By Monica Prinzing
Communications Specialist
Valley Children’s Healthcare

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Original Publish Date: March 9, 2015

A typical hospital environment’s bright lights, beeping alarms, and strong disinfectant smells may especially distress a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, the fastest growing developmental disability in the nation.

“Such an atmosphere can overload the senses,” said Shelly Reyes, a registered nurse in the day surgery unit at Valley Children’s Hospital located in Central California. “Even a click of a metal door or a baby’s cry can seem magnified to a child with ASD.”

Reyes should know. Her 9-year-old son, Jalen, who has ASD is also a Valley Children’s patient. When Reyes noticed opportunities to improve the hospital and surgical experience for Jalen and other young patients with the same condition, she decided to do something about it.

With significant support from her supervisor and the hospital, Reyes formed a multidisciplinary team to develop a process to systematically evaluate and address each child’s individualized needs based on their history and diagnosis. Named after Valley Children’s popular George the Giraffe mascot, the new program called “George’s Pass” eases the child’s stay through education, personal tours, hands-on activities and more.

“This is the only program of its kind in the region,” said LuAnn Joy, Valley Children’s director, perioperative services. “There are only a few of these programs in the country and ours is by far the most comprehensive I’ve seen.”

The only dedicated pediatric healthcare network and hospital between Los Angeles and the Bay Area, Valley Children’s treats more than 300 children a year with ASD. George’s Pass addresses these children’s specialized needs from the moment they enter the hospital until they are discharged.

Specifically, program highlights include the following:

The George’s Pass program is timely. The number of American children diagnosed with ASD has soared about 30 percent since 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The prevalence of ASD has surpassed the rates of childhood cancer, Down syndrome and spina bifida. The data reveals that ASD is almost five times more common among boys than girls, with one in 42 boys estimated to have the disorder, compared with one in 189 girls.

“This is an incredible example of a completely grassroots effort driven by a mom and nurse to do the right thing for kids,” said Beverly Hayden-Pugh, Valley Children’s senior vice president, clinical operations and chief nursing officer. “Our staff saw a problem and came up with a solution.”

The multidisciplinary team that developed and oversees the program comprises Valley Children’s staff, including Reyes and another registered nurse who has a child with ASD; two charge nurses; two nurse educators; Child Life program specialists; and a behavioral analyst.

George’s Pass completed a soft launch in summer 2014. “We’ve been working out more of the details since then,” said Reyes. “The program has been well received, with a lot of positive feedback from parents and other family members and caregivers.”

The new process also enhances the experience for staff and physicians. “They feel better prepared to provide individualized care to meet each child’s and family’s needs,” said Reyes. “It creates a better experience for all those involved.”

Because of the program’s success, Valley Children’s has extended George’s Pass to patients with high anxiety and behavioral issues as well.

“This has been a very rewarding effort,” said Reyes. “In the end we’re helping kids, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Monica Prinzing is a communications specialist for Valley Children’s Healthcare, a system of pediatric care providers and medical facilities serving a 45,000-square-mile region in Central California. A nonprofit, pediatric regional medical center on a 50-acre campus near Fresno, Valley Children’s Hospital is one of the largest hospitals of its type in the nation. The 356-bed facility has a medical staff of more than 550 physicians, offers more than 40 pediatric specialties, and consistently ranks at the top of its peer group for quality patient outcomes and patient satisfaction. Valley Children’s has received repeated designations for nursing care excellence from the Magnet Recognition Program®.

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