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Health care partnership a win-win in Phoenix

Apr 11, 2022
5 min Read
Cindy Murphy McMahon, BA’74
Creighton health sciences students First Place-Phoenix
From left, occupational therapy student Sarah White, medical student Oluwatosin Babarinde, medical student Clarice Douille and pharmacy student Stacee Tallman have spent time working with residents at First Place–Phoenix.


Creighton health sciences students are finding they benefit as much as those they serve through a partnership the University has with an organization in Phoenix dedicated to fostering independence for adults with autism and other neurodiversities.

Through the agreement between Creighton University Health Sciences Campus – Phoenix and First Place AZ, Creighton health care providers offer services and education to residents of First Place–Phoenix, an innovative residential community.

Many adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury and other neurodiverse abilities face unique challenges in daily living. First Place–Phoenix is designed to nurture a sense of community, independence and interdependence within a supportive and caring environment. It also offers sites for education, training and creative expression.

“This collaboration helps build a supportive community culture so that health care providers not only understand autism but also people with autism through its many forms and expressions,” says Denise Resnik, founder and president/CEO of First Place AZ. “Our partnership with Creighton offers valuable insights into the lives of health science students while providing them with experiences that deepen their understanding of neurodiverse populations and appreciation for the challenges inherent in navigating systems of care.”

Residents received flu shots last fall from pharmacy faculty in a familiar setting at First Place–Phoenix, with students offering additional support to help them understand more about the vaccine and possible side effects.

In 2022, pharmacy and occupational therapy faculty and students have begun working with First Place residents to provide medication history and education, as well as how to improve daily activities with OT support.

Students review residents’ medications and learn about their daily activities. Throughout the conversation, the residents and students work together to set goals and recommendations to work toward more lifestyle independence.

This collaboration helps build a supportive community culture so that health care providers not only understand autism but also people with autism through its many forms and expressions.
— Denise Resnik

In one case, after the medication review, an occupational therapy student identified that a resident was having trouble opening a pill case. The pharmacy student then noted that the medication was being filled and mailed from another state. Together, their recommendation was to find a physician in Arizona to support the person’s medication needs and to acquire a different, larger pill case for easier opening.

The School of Medicine offers an innovative elective rotation with First Place–Phoenix called “Minding the Gap.” Randy Richardson, MD, regional dean of the School of Medicine in Phoenix, says the goal of the course is to improve the continuity of care for adolescents and adults with autism and other intellectual and developmental delays.

“There is often a well-organized pediatric team that cares for these patients during their childhood, but their care often is nonexistent or poorly coordinated as they move from pediatric to adult care,” Richardson says, “which is the ‘gap’ mentioned in the title of the course.”

He says Caroline Kim Kupfer, MD, assistant professor of medicine who directs the course, helps students understand the challenges and opportunities in the health care system for treating and caring for “this underserved, underrepresented and often underestimated cohort of patients.”  

Amy Friedman Wilson, PharmD’95, interim dean of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, says the partnership with First Place has given students a “fantastic” opportunity to serve the community in an interprofessional manner alongside health sciences colleagues.

And students are finding satisfaction in helping empower the residents to become more independent. Says Sarah White, a first-year occupational therapy student: “Independence — that’s the key word.”