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Valuing the gifts of those with special needs

In 26 years of providing high-quality health care to patients with special needs, Stephen Sulkes M.D. also has promoted acceptance and inclusion of those with developmental disabilities in his practice, colleagues say.

  Sulkes is director of the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities at Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester. He has held that position since 2008.

  The developmental disabilities center is part of the medical center’s Division of Neurodevelopmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, one of 67 centers in the country designated as a university center for excellence in developmental disabilities, officials say.

  "The reward in this part of health care is helping people make the most of what they have," Sulkes says. "That is helping people to stay involved in the things they want to do and not be held back by the challenges they face."

  The Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities advocates for people of all ages who have developmental disabilities, and it educates the medical center’s staff and others about special needs, officials said.

  "Dr. Sulkes has demonstrated extraordinary work to expand access and improve health care services for people with developmental disabilities and to change attitudes and raise awareness as to the gifts and talents of people with developmental disabilities," says Ann Costello, director of the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation.

  In October, Sulkes received the Golisano Foundation Leadership Award for Exemplary Health Care Services to Individuals with Developmental Disabilities.

  "He values and recognizes those with developmental disabilities as people who can contribute and be a vital part of the community. With his example and leadership, we are hopeful that many more will follow in Steve’s footsteps," Costello says.

  Sulkes, an advocate for more than 20,000 people with special needs-including 6,000 children-has helped establish an experienced and compassionate network of care for a population often underserved, officials say.

  "In addition to leading, Sulkes sees value in the power of collaboration," says Kathleen Parrinello, chief operating officer at Strong Memorial Hospital and an associate vice president at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "He has developed new projects in collaboration with community organizations aimed at helping people with special needs succeed in different settings."

  Working with the Golisano Foundation, Sulkes helped develop partnerships that address the needs of those with developmental disabilities from early childhood to young adulthood, Parrinello says.

  Sulkes and the foundation launched a health care screening program last fall for Special Olympians across Upstate New York, she says.

  "He is currently tackling the issue of helping people with special needs make the often difficult transition from pediatric to adult health services," Parrinello says.

  In another collaboration with the foundation, Sulkes is developing adult training materials for professionals who interact with those with special needs, she says.

  Sulkes earned his medical degree from Boston University. He did his residency training in Syracuse and his developmental pediatric fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital before coming to Rochester in 1983 to work at the Monroe Developmental Center.

  He taught URMC residents how to work with people with special needs, then in 1984 joined the medical center’s department of pediatrics as a faculty member.

  Sulkes ran a state-funded fellowship for nine years until URMC was granted federal funding in 1995 to institute the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities Program. The program allows graduate and post-graduate students across 13 disciplines to organize care for those with special needs.                                

3/18/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail [email protected].

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