Cooper University Health Care to Develop Comprehensive Program to Enhance Care for Patients With Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Back of room view of an audience listening to a man at podium with presentation behind him.

Cooper experts discuss strategic collaboration, creating inclusive health care spaces, and removing barriers to care for individuals with I/DD, ASD at recent conference.

(CAMDEN, NJ) – Cooper University Health Care is developing a wide-ranging program to enhance care for patients with intellectual and development disabilities (I/DD) funded in part by a $2 million grant from the New Jersey Department of Health.

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

“This critical funding enables Cooper to take a multi-pronged, 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,” said Anthony J. Mazzarelli, MD, JD, MBE, co-CEO of Cooper.

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 comprehensive program will include staff and provider education, improved care coordination through enhancements to Cooper’s electronic medical record (EMR) 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 Franziska Jovin, MD, MMM, 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.”

About Cooper University Health Care

Cooper University Health Care, with its MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper and affiliation with Cooper Medical School of Rowan University, is a leading academic health system. Cooper has more than 9,600 team members including 1,600 nurses, and more than 900 employed physicians and 450 advanced practice providers. Cooper University Hospital has been recognized as a top-performing regional hospital by U.S. News & World Report’s 2022-2023 Best Hospitals annual survey and has an “A” Hospital Safety Grade from The Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit upholding the standard of patient safety in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.

Cooper has revenues of more than $2 billion and has an “A-” rating from S&P Global Ratings and “A3” rating from Moody’s Investors Service. Cooper University Hospital is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in South Jersey and the busiest in the region.  Nearly two million patients are served annually at Cooper’s 663-bed flagship hospital, outpatient surgery center, three urgent care centers, and more than 100 ambulatory offices throughout the community. Cooper has been named as one of America’s Best Employers by Forbes for two consecutive years.

The Cooper Health Sciences campus in Camden, New Jersey, is home to Cooper University Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, Children’s Regional Hospital at Cooper, and Cooper Medical School of Rowan University. Visit to learn more.

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