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Addressing Social Determinants of Health in Central Vermont


By Steve Ames

As we begin to realize the overwhelming importance of the social determinants of health in building resilience in people and in community, new and innovative ideas are taking hold. In Central Vermont, an exciting new collaboration has begun. The Family Center of Washington County, Washington County Mental Health, and a Central Vermont Medical Center pediatrician have created a partnership.

This initiative, the work of the Family Center, UVM/Central Vermont Medical Center and Washington County Mental Health, is now offering expanded family supports in the Pediatric Primary Care practice in Berlin.

This partnership provides families with children aged 0 through 36 months with a screening for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and a follow up meeting with family support specialists who can provide information and referrals, parenting information, and connections to activities, programs and other supports close to home.

The goal of this project, through the Family Center of Washington County and Washington County Mental Health Services, is to embed family supports directly into the pediatric practice. The partnership helps to build child and family protective factors, prevent and mitigate toxic stress, and promote healthy child development.

Families who need it will receive on-site help from Support Coordinators at the time of their doctor visit. Family Support Coordinators will offer families immediate options including secondary screening, parenting support resources, and community resource referrals.  All too often, healthcare professionals struggle with the challenge of supporting families who have needs beyond immediate medical care.

I am so excited to be part of this new team!  Dr. Shelton and her staff have warmly welcomed us into their practice. Dr. Shelton deeply understands that some of the medical issues she sees regularly are brought on by trauma and ongoing stressors within the family. We hope to provide a comprehensive service to help families connect with needed resources and support, assisting children and parents with overcoming barriers whether that be challenges with housing, transportation, child care or substance abuse, to name a few,” reports Family Center of Washington County Family Support Coordinator, Felicia Messuri.

This project builds on the relationship between families and pediatricians through a blended office-based and community outreach model, identifying those having a hard time early on, and providing support during a child’s vulnerable early brain development period, strengthening families and promoting each families’ protective factors.

The focus on supporting children and their families in the earliest years by connecting them to parent education, playgroups, mental health services, housing support, or help with heating their homes or transportation are just a few of the types connections that support the protective factors, and contribute to better lifelong outcomes for those who need it. This pediatric partnership – similar to the DULCE partnership in the Lamoille Valley, and to other collaborative approaches to health – is a reason to celebrate.

The Family Center of Washington County, Washington County Mental Health, and UVM/CVMC Pediatric primary practice are thrilled to be working so closely together in Central Vermont to embark on this promising work, and extend special appreciation to Dr. Gwen Shelton and her team for supporting community in partnership.

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