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UPMC Announces Development of Disabilities Resource Center to Enrich Health Care Options for People with Physical Challenges


A specialist with extensive expertise in coordinating resources for people with disabilities has joined UPMC as part of a comprehensive program to enrich health care services for disabled patients, their families and caregivers at facilities throughout the health system. Susan V. Schaeffer, Ph.D., director of UPMC’s new Disabilities Resource Center, formerly worked as director of a similar program at Washington State University in Pullman, Wash.

“For more than a year, UPMC has been proactively planning to strengthen accessibility and services for the disabled systemwide. We are delighted to have a proven leader and advocate such as Dr. Schaeffer to guide this very important initiative,” said Deborah Brodine, president and chief operating officer of UPMC Community Provider Services, which oversees the medical center’s post-acute and community-based programs.

“I’ve worked in the area of disability services for my entire career, and the opportunity at UPMC is just a wonderful fit,” said Dr. Schaeffer. “I’m excited to be a part of the community and hope that I can honor the institution by my work to promote disability awareness and programs.”

Dr. Schaeffer’s goals include helping to build robust resources at UPMC for people with disabilities, as well as developing and implementing an interpersonal-relations training program for professional and support staff focusing on the unique challenges that face this patient population – estimated to be as much as 19 percent of those ages 5 and over, according to recent U.S. Census figures.

“With the development of this center, UPMC reaffirms its commitment to serve all the people in its care with appropriate facilities and dedicated talented professionals. The center has the potential to be a national, even international leader in the field. This is a tremendous step forward for all of us who are dedicated to creating a health care environment that provides equal access to quality care to a diverse population with a wide variety of needs,” said Margaret Kimmel, Ph.D., professor in the School of Information Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and member of UPMC’s Disabilities Resource Center advisory council.

Considerable expertise in serving patients with disabilities already exists at UPMC, including the Center for Assistive Technology (CAT), a joint program with the University of Pittsburgh, and the Center for Women with Disabilities at Magee-Womens Hospital. The professionals who staff these programs also will apply their knowledge to the challenge of making UPMC’s Disabilities Resource Center a program upon which patients and their families can rely for first-class health care services.

“The Center for Assistive Technology is a leader and an innovator in the field,” said Ms. Brodine. “People at the center have the expertise to help patients choose devices such as wheelchairs, personal mobility systems, hearing aids and adaptive keyboards and driving technologies. CAT also is a success story in terms of the benefits of integrating the expertise of our colleagues at the university’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences into our clinical programs.”

Through the new Disabilities Resource Center, UPMC is working with an advisory council that includes members of the disability community and will continue to seek the group’s input on establishing priorities for improved access. “UPMC’s commitment is long-term and ongoing,” continued Ms. Brodine. “Understanding, awareness and sensitivity are keys to meeting the challenges we face to identify and overcome barriers to care.”

Under the leadership of Dr. Schaeffer, UPMC’s Disabilities Resource Center program will:

Develop and implement an internal educational program designed to promote sensitivity and awareness toward issues that people with disabilities face in dealing with the health care system. This curriculum will be made available across UPMC to professional and support personnel – everyone with whom the patient may interact, including parking valets, telephone operators, office receptionists and housekeeping, food-service and janitorial staff.
Identify and certify a larger network of clinical services within the existing UPMC footprint that have the capability and training to accommodate people with disabilities and be fully accessible.
Expand clinical services to improve options for accessing care. Immediate plans include expansion of the Magee disabilities clinic services to three half-days a week, a new wound-care program and a program to transition young adults with chronic pediatric medical problems to general internal medicine resources in Oakland.
Plans for the center represent a collaborative effort of UPMC administration, the Institute for Rehabilitation and Research, Community Provider Services, Magee, the advisory council of Magee’s Center for Women with Disabilities, Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, the division of general medicine, the UPMC Diversity Council and members of the medical staff at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Dr. Schaeffer earned a master’s degree in vocational and adult education and a doctorate in education administration, neuropsychological assessment and counseling psychology at the University of Idaho. She is a member of numerous professional organizations, including the President’s Commission on Individuals with Disabilities, the Association for Non-traditional Students in Higher Education and the Washington Association of Post-Secondary Education and Disability.


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