Regardless of age or health history, taking care of yourself and forming strong healthy habits is one of the most important things you can do. Achieving wellness looks different for all of us, but may be especially challenging for those with disabilities or special needs. Thankfully, some medical professionals have the expertise and compassion to help adults in this situation.
Dually certified in pediatrics and internal medicine, Laura Gaffney, MD, has dedicated her career to caring for adults with special needs. She started the Special Pediatric-to-Adult Need program, or SPAN, at AdventHealth Medical Group Primary Care at Shawnee Mission. The SPAN program is the only primary care program in the Kansas City area for adults with special needs including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and genetic disorders. It was Dr. Gaffney’s relationship with her mother and grandmother that prompted her to establish the SPAN program.
“My mom had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair,” said Dr. Gaffney. “I felt like she did not get the care she deserved. People would often treat her as if she had impaired intellectual ability, yet she was a pharmacist. Also, my grandmother was a librarian for children with special needs.”
As the medical director of SPAN, Dr. Gaffney has built a team that provides comprehensive, patient-focused care for adults with a chronic condition that persists from childhood to adulthood. The SPAN program offers these patients a consistent and reliable medical home with same-day appointments.
“There are few primary care clinics in the United States for adults with a variety of overlapping needs,” said Dr. Gaffney. “We work to ensure our clinic meets the needs of this unique group.”
Dr. Gaffney and her team will see a patient’s family members and caregivers, which provides an integrated approach to care and a better understanding of the social and emotional needs of the patient. They also have social workers on hand and provide diabetes education. In addition, the clinic features an exam bed that lowers to 14 inches allowing easy transfers and the ability to weigh a patient up to 450 pounds.
“These are ways we are providing whole-person care to adults with special needs,” said Dr. Gaffney. “We have also identified dentists, physical therapists and other specialists who are interested in caring for people with special needs and doing it with respect.”
Dr. Gaffney describes herself as a curious and empathic person. These traits coupled with her background as an internal medicine and pediatric physician give her a unique perspective allowing her to provide excellent medical care for patients with special needs.
“I have been trained to understand genetic, developmental and intellectual issues and how those change as people age,” said Dr. Gaffney. “People with genetic diseases, neurologic diversity and cerebral palsy are living longer lives and there are few physicians that are willing and educationally able to care for this group.”
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