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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Innovative program addresses emergency care for people with developmental disabilities

A new approach to caring for individuals with developmental disabilities (DD) officially launched in the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre emergency department (ED) on January 23rd.

The initiative’s name is DD CARES, and its aim is to provide EDs, community agencies, caregivers and people with DD with tools and information that can make a trip to the ED a better one.

DD cares team
Members of the interdisciplinary DD CARES team l to r: Sarah Reynolds, RN, Psychiatry Emergency Services, Sunnybrook; Darren Hefferon, ED  Information System (EDIS) Administrator, Sunnybrook; Dr. Jacques Lee, Emergency Physician, Sunnybrook; Andrea Perry, Registered OT, CAMH; Johanna Lake, Postdoctoral Fellow, CAMH; Ray Howald, Clinical Educator, Sunnybrook (Photo courtesy of Doug Nicholson)

“Research tells us that individuals with DD are more likely to visit the ED and they are more likely to have repeat visits than the general population,” says Andrea Perry, registered occupational therapist and implementation facilitator for the Underserved Populations Program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). “They also often leave the ED without a formal crisis prevention and management plan, and may experience difficulty receiving support and follow-up in the community. DD CARES is working to address these issues and gaps.”

Examples of how the DD CARES initiative can help include: providing communication aids for patients, providing staff education, development of new department protocols, and discharge packages for patients. This not only supports staff as they treat patients in the ED, it also enables people with DD to be more involved in their health care.

DD CARES was developed by researchers and clinicians at CAMH and Sunnybrook as part of the Health Card Access Research and Developmental Disabilities (H-CARDD) program, directed by Dr. Yona Lunsky at CAMH. Led by Dr. Jacques Lee, Sunnybrook is the first ED to adopt DD CARES and the goal is to roll it out to more hospitals in the coming months.

DD CARES also has a parallel effort working with Family Health Teams to implement best practice guidelines for the primary care of people with DD. To learn more about DD CARES, please visit

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