Tuesday's Child: Pueblo clinic taking new approach to primary medical care
Doctors at Southern Colorado Family Medicine in Pueblo are trying something new to give kids a healthier start in life. The clinic has implemented a survey to identify childhood adversity for the low-income families it serves.
SCFM began testing expectant parents for "Adverse Childhood Experiences" or ACEs about a year and a half ago.
"Having a parent incarcerated, coming from a family that's divorced, being sexually, physically or emotionally abused or neglected. Having a family member live with you that has depression or bi-polar disorder," said Family Medicine Physician, Leslie Dempsey. "These are the types of categories that show up on the screen."
She says answering "yes" to four or more of the questions on the survey increases your risk for health problems later in life exponentially. About 33 percent of the 425 people tested in Pueblo fall into that category, more than double the national average.
"We decided we have a very at risk population," Dempsey said. "We really struggle with wanting to help patients with more than just their medical issues in this clinic."
A CDC and Kaiser study links these childhood traumas to a higher risk for health problems like addictions, obesity, depression, diabetes, cancer and stroke. Information patients can use to make informed decisions about their health.
"For example, if we know that they're at increased risk of stroke, they can't change their childhood experiences, but they can stop smoking if they know they're at much higher risk than even the average smoker," said Dempsey.
In testing parents for their ACE score, the clinic is helping two generations at once.
"If it's something that you can prevent, then what you're doing is you're learning from your past what not to do with your child," said Cindy Lau, the Regional Violence Prevention Planner at St. Mary Corwin.
Families are offered access to resources that can help them find housing assistance and employment, and in partnership with Catholic Charities, parenting classes and marriage counseling.
"If we can get somebody with a score of a four to work on some things, go to some parenting classes, they learn some skills so their kids have a score of 3, then you've already helped that child's risk," said Lau.
They're already starting to see the impact. More families are coming to their appointments, getting vaccinated and using the emergency room less.
"If you can intervene and reduce the amount of chronic stress that a child is undergoing, then we feel like we can impact their health and the overall healthcare system later," Dempsey said.
SCFM just secured funding to keep the program running for the next three years and hire two full time social workers. The clinic plans to expand it by offering the survey to parents in the St. Mary Corwin Emergency Room.