USC Student Develops New Emergency Department Program at CHLA

Sammy Cohen presenting his research findings at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies conference.

By OMAIR QURESHI
Editor-in-Chief

When he arrived at USC four years ago, senior Sammy Cohen knew that he wanted to address health disparities in the Los Angeles community. After all, that was one of the reasons why he chose to attend a school like USC.

“When I visited campus for the first time, I talked with other pre-health students who all emphasized the opportunity to serve the local community,” said Cohen, a Health Promotion and Disease Prevention major who will be recognized at commencement as the Salutatorian for the USC Class of 2018. “That is why from the moment I stepped on campus I was searching for research opportunities that emphasized clinical experience.”  

As a freshman, he chose to declare a “Health Care Studies” minor in order to further his clinical opportunities. In the first semester of his Sophomore year, he connected with Dr. Janet Semple-Hess and Dr. Danica Liberman –both Emergency Department (ED) Physicians at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) — via his MEDS 490 Directed Research course. The research used a survey to assess non-medical needs of families visiting the ED. For example, food insecurity as well as the need for low cost or free health clinics, safe housing services, legal services, and subsidized utilities were all addressed.

“The results of the survey confirmed our initial beliefs in that families visiting the ED often needed much more than medical care,” Cohen explained. “More than ½ of families anticipated needing two or more community resources, with low cost or free health clinics the most common community resource both needed in the past and anticipated in the future.  

“The primary goal of the survey was to identify steps that we could take to alleviate environmental causes of return visits to the Emergency Department,” Cohen explained. “One of the biggest takeaways from the survey was that families needed referrals to primary care doctors to establish ‘medical homes’ for non-emergency medical situations.”

The survey results earned Cohen and the rest of the CHLA team a trip to the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) International Conference in May, 2017, to present their findings.

“The conference was one of my greatest experiences at USC,” Cohen explained. As one of the few undergraduates invited to attend, he was able to observe leading physicians discuss their own groundbreaking research after presenting his own research on community needs with Dr. Janet Semple-Hess. The findings of the survey presented at the PAS conference have recently been submitted for publication to the peer-reviewed journal Academic Pediatrics.

Cohen credits the conference for helping to inspire him to launch one of the newest projects at CHLA, a community resources help desk that families can visit to address non-medical needs when visiting the ED. The program, to be launched in the Fall of 2018, will be called CHLA C.H.A.T. (Community Health Advocates Team).

“Ideally, families will be screened by attending physicians and social workers during their stay at the ED. If it is determined (or they demonstrate) a need for local resources such as access to food banks or primary care physicians, they will be referred to the help desk for information about resources in their area,” Cohen explained.

The desk will be staffed by USC undergraduates as part of a new MEDS 490: Directed Research course. Cohen later emphasized that although based in the ED, the course will not be exclusive to pre-healthcare students.

“We are looking for anybody who is interested in studying the social determinants of health.  Students interested in health policy, for example, can obtain course credit by working at the help desk and proposing solutions to many of the problems faced by families visiting the ED.”

USC students who register for the course will undergo a training program where they learn how to respond to different cases they may face in the ED. Additionally, they will learn to navigate an immense database of resources to provide the most up to date and effective services for those who need assistance.

Cohen emphasized that students who choose to register for the course can truly make a difference in the local community. “The USC undergraduates who work at the help desk will even go as far as to schedule primary care appointments for families without a medical home, ensuring future health care problems can be addressed without returning to the Emergency Department.”

The course is currently open for registration for the Fall 2018 semester. Those interested in enrolling in the course can contact Cohen at cohensa@usc.edu. Cohen, who hopes to highlight the CHLA C.H.A.T. program in his commencement speech to fellow Keck undergraduates, hopes that CHLA C.H.A.T. will be the start of a successful campaign to address health disparities in the community.

“At USC, we are given amazing opportunities to improve the surrounding area. We cannot stand idly by and watch our neighbors suffer without trying to make a difference in any way that we can.”

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