Newswise — The Pediatric Emergency Department at  Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Children's Health has been awarded the accolade of becoming the first Emergency Department in New Jersey to earn the Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) designation through the International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards (IBCCES). 

As part of the CAC designation process, at least 80% of physicians, nurses and patient-facing department staff completed a training and certification program to better understand the autism spectrum and strategies for communication, patient interaction and safety. IBCCES also reviewed the emergency department on-site to kprovide additional support, recommendations and tools to enhance access and options for autistic patients and their families.

“Congratulations to the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital Emergency Department team. We are proud that this certification reinforces one of the foundational hallmarks of care we provide to the many children and families affected by autism spectrum disorders,” said Mark D. Sparta, FACHE, president and chief hospital executive of Hackensack University Medical Center and president, Northern Region, Hackensack Meridian Health. “As always, we strive to deliver exceptional evaluation and care, and essential guidance for autism in a family centered environment.”

The Autism Program at Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health is a collaborative initiative among the two children’s hospitals that make up the network - Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center and K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Hospital - and children’s services at JFK University Medical Center.

The Certified Autism Center™ certification is the latest initiative undertaken by the multidisciplinary group of physicians, nurses, behaviorists and physical medicine specialists who are working to meet  the needs of the thousands of families it serves who are living with autism spectrum disorder.  The certification initiative was spearheaded by Richard Schultz, Jr., nurse manager of the Pediatric Emergency Department. 

“We appreciate this designation as it recognizes the work we continue to do to care for the children and families who entrust their care to us,” said Stephen Percy, M.D., chair of Pediatrics, Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center. “Our team and the programs and services we provide within developmental medicine, speak to our commitment to an autism friendly culture and environment which supports the unique needs and challenges of the community we serve.” 

“Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health is proud to stand out as an exceptional leader in autism-friendly healthcare practices,” said Michelle Breaud, manager of Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health Autism Program. “Attainment of this certification further solidifies the commitment and passion of Hackensack 

Meridian Children’s Health, as well as our promise to our patients and families.”  to maintain our autism friendly culture and environment which supports the unique needs and challenges of the community we serve.” 

According to research, 1 in 34 children and their families are coping with an ASD diagnosis, with the reporting of cases having jumped 300 percent in the past 16 years. Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health Programs include:  

  • As part of the requirements for designation as an CAC site, all healthcare providers in the Emergency Department at Joseph M. Sanzari received training in best practices for caring for autism patients.
  • Team of developmental pediatricians who evaluate and diagnose autism and along with support staff to help families connect to services. 
  • Recently hired board certified behavioral analysts (BCBA)  who work to provide individualized care for the Emergency Department and inpatient units. 
  • You and Me Autism Program at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute serves children up to the age of 6 providing one-on-one therapy sessions. 
  • Through EmpowerU, a platform dedicated to families living with autism, families and caregivers can enroll in a free text message platform that provides personalized health information and connections to resources. The platform is designed to meet the needs of caregivers of children aged 1 to 21, and children aged 12 to 17. This is available to patients and families at all 18 Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals. 
  • This month, the network introduced the Coping Passport tool which makes it possible for  families to communicate their children’s needs with their care team or outside resources such as a school. Information that can be included in the passport include preferences for communication styles and how discomfort and pain is expressed. The passport is meant to support  patients with special needs, including but not limited to autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, anxiety, and ADHD. Developmental Pediatrician Dr. Oana DaVinck-Baroody  was instrumental in the adoption of the tool. 
  • This month Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital launched the While You Wait monthly workshops for parents/caregivers with age-specific guidance on how to access community support and educational resources, and provide guidance on how to request help for their children while families wait for a formal developmental evaluation.
  • Sensory carts, which help to provide convenient access to a variety of calming activities, are available in the Pediatric Emergency Departments at Hackensack Meridian Children’s Health two children’s hospitals and will soon be introduced at other Hackensack Meridian Health hospitals. 
  • Art installations are being held this month to mark April’s Autism Acceptance Month.  Patients will showcase their work at art galleries in Westwood and Spring Lake New Jersey.   After the shows, the art installations will be on display at the two children’s hospitals.  

Many autistic individuals have different needs related to communication, pain perception and other treatments. IBCCES’ programs were created by clinical experts, as well as autistic individuals, to ensure a well-rounded approach. Offering care that includes a patient and family in each step of the process is vital. With 1 in 6 people experiencing sensory needs or sensitivities and 1 in 36 children diagnosed with autism in the United States, it’s essential to provide appropriate training for emergency medicine staff so patients, their families and their caregivers feel confident they will receive supportive care.

“We understand how important it is that autistic patients feel safe and supported when they seek medical care. That’s why we have designed our training programs to empower staff to improve communication with patients and achieve better outcomes and treatment plans,” said IBCCES board chairman, Myron Pincomb. “We are excited about the implementation of our training at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children's Hospital Pediatric ER, creating a more accommodating environment for autistic patients and their caregivers.”

IBCCES has been an industry leader for more than  20 years in cognitive disorder training and certification for education, health care, and corporate professionals around the globe. The organization provides evidence-based training and certification programs created in conjunction with clinical experts and the perspectives of autistic individuals, alongside other resources, ongoing support and renewal requirements to ensure there is continued learning and a lasting impact.

IBCCES also created, as a free online resource for parents that lists certified locations and professionals. Each organization listed on the site has met the Certified Autism Center™ (CAC) requirements.