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New DPH Award Recognizes Physicians Caring for Children with Special Health Care Needs

September 4, 2013

Originally published Nov. 14, 2011

In Georgia, one in five children has some sort of special health care need. Families raising children with serious conditions such as autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, complex genetic disorders and epilepsy have increased contact with the health care system and rely on primary care physicians to provide not only high quality medical care, but also increased care coordination, a focus on increased family involvement, and services that often extend beyond the scope of the traditional patient-provider relationship. A supply of competent, caring, and knowledgeable providers willing to provide care to Georgia’s most vulnerable children is essential to maximizing health outcomes and quality of life.

However, in Georgia, children with special health care needs and their families face many challenges. These challenges were highlighted in a state needs assessment among women, infants, children, fathers, and families conducted by Georgia’s Maternal and Child Health Program in 2010.

Focus groups conducted statewide among parents and providers highlighted the long distances to find specialists, the increasing costs of services while reimbursement has been stagnant or declined, long wait lists for providers, limited operating hours, and limited translation services. As one parent noted, there are “children without a primary care provider who can help coordinate care.”

As part of a strategy to increase the number of providers who serve this vulnerable population, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) created an award to recognize and celebrate those providers in Georgia who are already providing exceptional service to children with special health care needs.

“We need more physicians with this focus, but a good first step is identifying those who have already been doing this work,” said Brian Castrucci, director of Georgia’s Maternal and Child Health and WIC Programs. “It is important to acknowledge the time, commitment and talents of those dedicated to work with children with special healthcare needs and their families.”

In this inaugural year, the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics graciously agreed to allow the presentation of this award as part of its awards program at its 2011 annual conference. On November 4, 2011, R. Dwain Blackston, MD, became the first recipient of this award.

Dr. Blackston is a well-known physician and geneticist who has served children, families and the community for many years. His numerous awards and recognitions speak to the impact he has had on the quality of healthcare for so many. His genetics clinics throughout Georgia continue to help provide access to quality care for families in need of specialized medical services.

“I never did this for reward, from the bottom of my heart, it has been a labor of love for me and I appreciate all the people at the community level who support me in this work,” said Dr. Blackston. “Children and youth with special healthcare needs and their families are a population with such great needs but with true appreciation for the healthcare services they receive.”

The Department of Public Health’s goals for this award include encouraging early career physicians to consider serving this population and creating a cadre of identified mentors and leaders with extensive experience serving children with special health care needs to enhance the statewide referral network and support early career professionals.