SafeMinds Board Vice President Dr. Michael Cummings, M.D., Spearheads Successful Mental Health Services Program for Families Facing Autism

August 27, 2018


Research shows that up to 56 percent of people with autism aggress against their caregivers, and that autism mothers have been shown to have the same level of stress as combat soldiers. There are few resources and support services available to meet the behavioral and mental health needs of the growing population of people with autism, and those who care for them.

Fortunately, SafeMinds Board Vice President Dr. Michael Cummings, M.D., and SafeMinds Research Committee Member Janell Van Cleve, have pioneered a program known as Access to Psychiatry through Intermediate Care Program (APIC). The grant-funded APIC program makes house calls to families facing challenging behaviors in 17 New York counties, free of charge.

APIC focuses on four specific areas—medical needs, alternative behavioral health therapies, home environment, and time for caregivers to get respite. Pairs of APIC staff members meet with families in crisis situations, connect them with medical and social service providers, and collaborate on strategies for preventing avoidable emergency room and extended hospital stays related to challenging, aggressive behaviors.

The program has achieved measurable success. Dr. Cummings reports that, according to Erie County Medicaid data, the APIC program has assisted in reaching a 40 percent reduction in hospitalizations, 30 percent reduction in ER visits, and a 50 percent increase in outpatient case management visits during the past 3.5 years, among the population it serves. Family reported aggression measures decreased by 40 percent, and family distress fell by 50 percent.

Dr. Cummings and Ms. Van Cleve display an uncommon ability to understand the needs of those affected with moderate to severe autism and their families. In a recent Disability Scoop article, Dr. Cummings related, “It’s hard for families. They start with the child or identified patient, and there’s a lot of stuff to do there, but we need to get to the whole family. What do you need as parents? What do the siblings need that they’re not getting? These siblings don’t have birthday parties. No one comes to the house. They don’t have sleepovers. There are literally kids that go home and deadbolt themselves into their room because it’s the only way they’re safe. It’s an entirely different existence.”

Dr. Cummings continued, “We look at where we can get the most gain, do things for families that others might laugh at, like respite funds to pay a family member. We’ve done everything from dinner and a movie to sending families (for a night away). The family gets to be human again. Mom and Dad get to take a deep breath. It’s really instilling hope.”

In the end, APIC is making life safer, healthier, and brighter for families facing autism. We couldn’t be more proud of Dr. Cummings and Ms. Van Cleve’s dedication to our community. We look forward to advocating for similar programs across the country.

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