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December 08, 2016
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Center for Discovery expansion plans; High risk assessment clinic

The Center for Discovery is well known as one of the most important success stories in Sullivan County, and president and CEO Patrick Dollard said he intends to expand on that success in the coming years and beyond.

At a presentation at the center’s Michael Richie Big Barn Center in Hurleyville on June 27, Dollard explained the center’s plans to add a High Risk Assessment Center, which “will likely attract families from all over the world.” The new center will ultimately add 350 jobs to the area, and will involve an investment of $40 million. It is projected that, once it is open, the assessment center will save New York State $29 million annually on the cost of providing care.

In wide-ranging remarks about the past, present and future of the Center for Discovery, Dollard noted that when he took the helm of the organization some 30 years ago, there was a staff of 20. Now, the center employs 1,500 and more than 80% of them are Sullivan County residents.

In discussing the center’s position in the world of treating individuals with complex illnesses and conditions, Dollard noted that the center is working with organizations such as Harvard, M.I.T., Georgia Tech, Chapel Hill and others with the goal of creating “new models of care.”

He said, “The complexity of disorders and disease that we’re dealing with [is moving] these universities to us in a way that says ‘what you have been doing in these universities hasn’t been working. You’re still cranking out people with the same degrees that we have.’” A recurring theme of his remarks is that organizations that are in the field of treating very challenged individuals need to adjust to fill current and future needs.

One of the biggest challenges facing that field is autism. He said, “The disease is taking over the field of disability, going from prevalence of 1 in 10,000 (30 years ago) to one in 80 today; it has more prevalence than any disease in the history of mankind. It’s very complex, and very, very destructive to the family. We have work to do.”

He said diseases such as autism, coupled with the aging population of the country and world, are going to present challenges. He said he was examining a study of aging done by the ratings agency Standard & Poors, and the study said, “We’re going to have so many people and these complex diseases, and the world is coming to an end.” But, he added, “I think the transformation that you’ll hopefully see, or that we need to see, places like us need to demonstrate with evidence that our treatment methodologies work.”

Dollard said that one of the things that makes the center unique among places of its kind, is that he brought nurses into the center of the operation 30 years ago. He said, “Nurses came to us with a holistic notion of the whole person.” Today, he said, “We have the brightest medical division of any place in the country run by nurses. They tell the neurologists what to do.”

Tools for assessment

Theresa Hamlin, associate executive director of the organization, gave an example of the work that will be done at the assessment center. She said that kids that come to the center with autism have severe behavioral problems that are caused by even more severe medical problems. She said there is still not a good understanding about autism, although it is known that there is a genetic component involving multiple genes and “there is certainly an environmental component,” which is one reason that the center has been a champion of green buildings.

She said some of the children that come to the center can’t be handled by their parents, the schools or doctors because, “they’re literally tearing the physician’s office apart.”

She said, “We have two classrooms and an observation space that are wired with very sensitive camera technology, audio sensing and bio sensors, which measures your autonomic nervous system; in particular we’re looking at electrodermal activity, which is a measure of stress. So we can actually see the internal stress state of the child through this technology.”

Hamlin said with the technology they have, which is brand new, she can tell a computer to gather all of the incidents in which a child has, for instance, hit his head, and “within 20 minutes I will have the 160 episodes where that behavior happened.”

She displayed a chart in which stress heart rates and specific behaviors are measured, and explained the information. At one point the heart rate jumped significantly, and the child lost control of himself. Just before that, the teacher gave the child a task to solve, a problem which he could not do. People in the room would assume that the task was the reason for the blowup. But a look at the chart shows that the child’s stress level started to skyrocket three minutes previous to the blow-up, so the trigger was something else.

She said that kind of research would be taken further with the new assessment center. Hamlin said, “Our goal for families is that before a behavior happens we want to be able to tell a family that behavior is about to happen. So we’re working with a couple of drug companies and computer systems; they are going to create an app that will allow a parent to get a little call on their cell phone that will say ‘there’s something happening with your child right now,’ so either they need to do some deep breathing, some relaxation, or you need to get out of that situation, because it’s not going to end well.”