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One of the Nation’s First “Autism-Friendly” Emergency Departments Provides Customized Care



Emergency Medical Associates (EMA), Parsippany, N.J., recently partnered with HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley’s Broadway Campus to develop a program to provide an “autism-friendly” experience in the emergency department (ED).

“Patients with autism react and communicate differently, requiring a specialized approach to create a safe and supportive environment – especially in emergency situations,” said Scott Serbin, director of education and research at Emergency Medical Associates. “This is an important step in making emergency care less stressful for this population.”

The program uses iPads with autism-specific apps that help staff communicate with patients with autism and verbally impaired patients. The devices help medical providers learn the reason why the patient has arrived for care; the patient’s pain and discomfort level; and his or her communication preferences. It also enables staff to better explain what the patient can expect during his or her visit to alleviate fear and confusion. Sensory boxes provide objects with a variety of textures to enable autistic patients to self-soothe and better deal with stress.

“The hospital’s administration embraced this initiative whole-heartedly, and it’s great to see how these tools are truly improving the care experience,” said Fareed N. Fareed, MD, FACEP, director of the emergency department at HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley.

For Meghan Goodnow, lead clinical technician in HealthAlliance’s ED, the tools provided through the new program enabled her to quickly assess and calm an agitated patient – and provide peace of mind to his parents.

“A young boy with autism was yelling and crying very loudly when he came in to the ED with burns on his fingers. I brought the iPad over to him and we sat together and quickly navigated through the screens,” explained Goodnow. “He was much happier communicating using the iPad and I could see the look of relief on his parents’ faces as the child relaxed and found a way to explain his pain.”

Goodnow also offered the boy the opportunity to select an item from the sensory box. Noting that he chose a squishy item, she made his ice packs “extra squishy” so they were more appealing to the young patient.

“When they were leaving, the patient’s mother said that she was very impressed with our staff's patience and understanding toward their son. She said she was thankful to have a group of people willing to take the time to make her son feel special and to attempt to understand and communicate with him. She was planning to tell other local parents about our new service,” said Goodnow.

A young, non-verbal patient also found comfort by using a toy from the sensory box.

“The young man’s caregiver said that he probably wouldn’t be able to use the iPad but that the patient liked toys that made noise,” explained Pamela Ausanio, RN. “I offered him a pinwheel that moved and made a sound at the same time. The patient blew on the pinwheel during the evaluation, distracting him and easing the stress that can be associated with a physical exam. The young man’s caregiver was impressed with our attentiveness to his client’s disability. As the community becomes more aware of our services for people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I think we’ll see an increase in patients with autism.”

“While this is the first time we’ve implemented this type of initiative at a client hospital, with one in 68 people now classified as having autism, it’s a service that is sorely need,” said Raymond Iannaccone, MD, FACEP, president and chief executive officer of Emergency Medical Associates. “Creating an autism-friendly ED has been a fairly simple process and has already made great strides in the Kingston community.”

Iannaccone said several other clients plan to implement an autism-friendly emergency department in their facilities.

About Emergency Medical Associates

Emergency Medical Associates (EMA) is a medical practice that specializes in emergency, hospitalist and urgent care medicine. Dedicated to providing exceptional solutions for the measurable success of our hospital partners, EMA is recognized for clinical excellence, quality service and sustained improved patient satisfaction. For more information, visit, or

About HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley®

HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley® is the alignment of HealthAlliance Hospital: Mary’s Avenue Campus and Broadway Campus, as well as Margaretville Hospital, Mountainside Residential Care Center and Woodland Pond at New Paltz. As the parent organization with a unified governance structure, the goal of HealthAlliance is to strengthen the quality of care and bring forward enhanced technology to serve the present and future healthcare needs in the Hudson Valley. HealthAlliance and its affiliate facilities are committed to providing compassionate, patient-centered care and ensuring patient safety, privacy and dignity to all. For further information about HealthAlliance visit our web site at

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