New UAB program to help children with chronic medical conditions transition to adult care

Local News

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A new UAB program is starting Sept. 2 called STEP, which stands for Staging Transition for Every Patient.

STEP helps children with chronic and complex childhood medical conditions transition to adult care smoothly.

The program is run by STEP program medical director Dr. Carlie Somerville and program director Betsy Hopson.

There are two initiatives for the STEP program. The first is to help children as young as 14 start planning their adult care path by getting them set up with specialists and the transition to UAB.

STEP will also be a primary care clinic that will serve as an adult medical home to facilitate referrals to specialists, and give access to other support services including physical therapy, social work, and emergency planning.

Hopson said this program is needed now, more than ever.

“It’s kind of been over the last several decades more of a new issue because these are conditions that historically children didn’t survive until adulthood but now with advances in medical treatment, outstanding pediatric care, these patients are living into adulthood and while that’s a good problem to have, it was a problem because there was no one on the adult side ready to absorb these patients,” Hopson said.

Somerville said she’s seen families struggle with this transition and believes STEP will help.

“They don’t want to leave their pediatric doctors. Some feel adult doctors won’t be comfortable caring for their children and that can cause a lot of stress on a family and we’ve seen families stop getting care at 18 or 19 because they don’t know how to enter that adult healthcare system and sometimes that leads to ending up in the ER or other negative outcomes we could have prevented,” Somerville said.

Somerville and Hopson said with the COVID-19 pandemic going on, anxiety and stress levels are high, which is why they believe this program is being introduced at a good time.

“The thought of leaving that comfort zone on the pediatric side is very anxiety producing for them and then you add COVID-19 to that and the anxiety that causes in many causes, these families haven’t left their home since March because they are dealing with some other issues,” Hopson said.

“It’s a good time. Patients are still turning 18 everyday, and they really more than ever need that help transitioning to a new medical system and really what they call that warm hand-off, so your doctor and family really getting to meet your new provider and really having that smooth transition to a provider is needed now more than ever, as healthcare seems to be overwhelmed and with a lot more limited access right now,” said Somerville.

To get started in STEP, a child specialist or pediatrician can refer their patient to STEP. Patients with a complex or chronic disease of childhood and at least 18 years old can call the UAB Primary Care Access Center to schedule a new patient appointment with the STEP Clinic at 205-801-7474.


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