Shore Medical Center Receives Eagles Autism Foundation Funding

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Shore Medical Center

Shore Medical Center, the nonprofit community hospital in Somers Point, announced Thursday that it has received a $20,000 grant from the Eagles Autism Foundation to fund an adult sensory-friendly program in its emergency department.

This program will be the first of its kind in southern New Jersey and is scheduled to launch in summer 2024.

Shore Medical Center’s adult sensory-friendly emergency care program will provide specialized care for adult patients with sensory needs in a safe and calming environment. The adult sensory-friendly care program will complement Shore’s current sensory-friendly program in its Pediatric Care Center.

“We are extremely grateful to the Eagles Autism Foundation for supporting our program that will help patients with sensory issues,” says Sherri Richmond, director of emergency services. “In April 2021, we launched our sensory-friendly program in our pediatric emergency care center, and it’s been life-changing for families in South Jersey.”

She continued, “This new adult sensory-friendly program allows us to expand this high level of care to patients with sensory issues well past the age of 18. Common triggers for those with sensory disorders are loud noises, social anxiety, lighting, clothing and textures, fear, and stress, all of which are present in an emergency room environment. The sensory-friendly program in our Pediatric Care Center – and soon our adult emergency room – addresses many of these triggers so patients can get the care they need in the best possible way.”

Shore Medical Center’s adult sensory-friendly emergency program will be comprised of numerous components, including a soothing atmosphere with soft lighting, neutral flooring and muted wall colors.

To reduce external noises, the room will have a sliding glass door installed. All monitoring and treatment equipment such as oxygen, suction, and heart monitors will be hidden behind cabinets to minimize distractions and stress.

The room will also be stocked with a wide array of sensory toys and fidget devices to help distract patients during procedures and periods of waiting. The program will also include extensive training for clinical staff on the unique sensory and communication needs of people with autism or sensory processing disorders to ensure patients’ comfort from door to discharge.

Richmond noted that just like the sensory-friendly pediatric program, the adult program will help parents and caregivers of people with autism or sensory needs feel more confident that they can bring their loved one in for treatment.

“Caregivers may delay or even avoid bringing their loved one in for essential medical care because they are afraid of exposing them to an environment with many sensory triggers. We want caregivers to know that when they come to Shore, we understand the patient’s sensory needs and are equipped to do everything we can to minimize triggers so they can safely get the care they need, whether the patient is a child or an adult,” she said.

Shore is partnering with the Atlantic County Special Services School District to develop the adult program and train staff, just as it does with the Pediatric Care Center, which is outfitted with a wide array of resources to help a child feel more at home.

These resources were developed in partnership with speech therapists and occupational therapists and include communication tools just like those a child might use at home and school, customized to a healthcare experience, as well as sensory installations to help create a calming environment.

There are also a variety of sensory toys, weighted blankets, and noise-canceling headphones to help distract a child during treatments. Patients can then take these items home with them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New Jersey currently has the third highest rate of autism in the United States. One in 35 children (2.9%) 8 years old are diagnosed with autism in New Jersey, exceeding the national average of 1 in 36 children (2.7%). Many of these children live in South Jersey and experience sensory complications.