Patient Care

$1 Million Gift from Levine Foundation Names New Pediatric Autism Clinic

Dec. 21, 2014

The William and Mildred Levine Foundation announced a gift of $1 million in support of a University of Rochester-owned building, set to break ground in the spring of 2015 along Brighton’s East River Road. The generous gift will name the William and Mildred Levine Autism Clinic, what will become a prominent program located on the building’s third floor.

In the past year, more than 500 new diagnoses of autism spectrum disorder were made through UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. The Levine Clinic will address the increasing needs for diagnosis and treatment in an environment that will meet the unique sensory needs of these youth.

The first two floors of the new building will be dedicated to outpatient imaging. The third floor’s shell has been approved and the application for the pediatric program will be made to the New York State Health Department in the spring. The building is projected to open in the spring/summer of 2016 near the Route 390/Kendrick Road interchange.

The new autism clinic will be an important complement to the existing Kirch Developmental Services Center, the current clinical service of the children’s hospital’s Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics. The Center is the top referral site for evaluation of children with developmental disabilities in Western New York. Multiple clinical services, including child neurology and child and adolescent psychiatry, collaborate with developmental and behavioral pediatrics in the care of children and youth with autism. Although the new clinic will focus primarily on the needs of children and families affected by autism, it will also enhance the care of children with other intellectual and developmental disabilities by co-locating these services on the same floor. In this way, patients and families can meet with multiple providers in one setting and providers from multiple disciplines can network readily around the care needs of any patient.

“We’ve been so fortunate with our son’s experience,” said Todd Levine, president of the William and Mildred Levine Foundation and Alleson Athletic, whose son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2. “My wife Julie’s knowledge as a nurse practitioner allowed us to unlock a lot of diagnostic and treatment opportunities early, but many families don’t have those means. Being able to create a stand-alone building where a child with developmental disabilities can receive holistic treatment will allow us to reach for new heights, ensuring everyone is provided with the best services and care possible.”

Earlier this year, the Center for Disease Control issued new prevalence statistics indicating that autism spectrum disorders affect one in every 68 children, up 30 percent from numbers reported just two years ago. Recognizing the increasing need for integrated care for children with autism, the Foundation wanted to create a specialized space for outpatient care within an environment that is sensory appropriate.

“Autism isn’t just about behavior; many physical symptoms are involved,” said Susan Hyman, M.D., chief of the division of neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrics. “The Levine family  recognized that the environmental experience our new children’s hospital will provide for inpatient care should be extended to children with developmental disabilities in the outpatient setting and we couldn’t be more excited that the new clinic will make that a reality.”

The autism clinic’s design team is made up of an interdisciplinary group, including nurses, doctors, a family advisory committee, community groups, local architects from Clark Patterson Lee, LeChase Construction, and specialty consulting architect Marika Beise of Rock Paper Square in Canada. Leaders of Rochester’s Autism Speaks' Autism Treatment Network site, Hyman and Lynn Cole, P.N.P.,M.S., director of clinical services in the division of neurodevelopmental and behavioral pediatrics, spent months benchmarking what autism clinics across the country have done in order to incorporate best practices in the Levine clinic.

For many patients with autism, there is a struggle when processing sensory information, such as textures, brightness, and movement, making many ordinary situations feel overwhelming. Some of the sensory aspects of the clinic will include a playroom area, a specific place designed to promote sensory regulation, several “touch down spots” where patients who are experiencing difficulty will be able to calm themselves in private alcoves, less distracting patient exam rooms, and a stairwell that is welcoming for the child who is fearful of taking the elevator. Even the vibration of a fluorescent light bulb or a high ceiling can mean overstimulation, causing designers to pay close attention to the lighting and level of sound audible throughout the clinic.

Although the clinic is patient-focused, it will incorporate and promote family-centered care, meeting the needs of parents as well. A patient library will be a dedicated space where local mentors from community organizations will work individually with parents, providing more resources and support. Nurses and patient families have also been working closely together on planning the process of getting in, around, and out of the clinic, using patterns and color to help with the overall flow, including to and from the clinic parking lot.

“This clinic will let families know that we care about their experience in a very tangible way,” said Hyman, who has been involved in the design process since the beginning.

In addition to being a space for treatment, the autism clinic will also be an environment dedicated to education and training for future clinicians. The clinic’s team-based care, paired with the proximity of the clinical services of developmental and behavioral pediatrics, child neurology and child and adolescent psychiatry, will enhance cross training, allowing a better experience for patients, families, and students. Patients’ behavior management sessions and the wide range of behavioral intervention programs provided at the clinic will be concrete outlets for training experience.

“The Levine Foundation’s gift is truly transformative,” said Hyman. “We have come a long way in the history of how children with developmental disabilities are cared for. The new autism clinic will allow us to continue to be the top provider for these children and youth in our region and beyond well into the future.”

The William and Mildred Levine Foundation, founded in 1987, has been a generous donor to Golisano Children’s Hospital for more than 15 years, naming its Pediatric Surgical Suite, which opened in June 2006, and sponsoring its Gala for many years. Todd Levine, who has served on the children’s hospital board for more than 10 years, is honored to keep his grandfather’s philanthropic legacy alive. “My grandfather would be proud of the revolutionary work that will be done at the autism clinic. He would want to make sure that we’ve invested in a winner and I know that, by partnering with Dr. Hyman and the children’s hospital, we have,” said Todd.