Fresno County working to address childhood trauma

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County medical providers and community organizations are taking action to prevent and treat toxic stress amongst children. The county, one of eight in the state, received a grant that aims to reduce health care disparities and inequities.

The $2.6 million grant allows Fresno County Health Improvement Partnership and Saint Agnes Medical Center to lead an effort called The Fresno County Network of Care cohort.

Medical providers can screen and assess a child for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). They can also receive a Medi-Cal payment for conducting ACE screenings.

The screening includes 10 questions that measures abuse, neglect and household challenges.

"The higher adverse score you have, the more likely you are to have an adverse response," explained Ashlee Hernandez, with Fresno County Health Improvement Partnership.

According to Hernandez, studies show children who go through traumatic life events can experience negative physical and mental health outcomes.

"Let's say household neglect, you're going to have a higher toxic stress in your body," she said. "As an adult, all of that toxic response ends up manifesting into things like cancer, heart disease, abuse, mental illness."

Medical providers from St Agnes, Valley Children's Healthcare, UCSF Fresno, Camerena Health, KC Kids and Adventist Health are now screening young patients for ACEs. Depending on the ACEs score, they will pair the families up with a community health worker.

"They get to know if they have any social determinants of health needs, such as housing, food insecurity, income," Hernandez said.

The health worker will connect them with 26 community organizations to help with resources for food insecurity, physical health needs and more.

"People who are boots on the ground," said Hernandez. "They're doing the work, but they're now seen as a medical intervention to help mitigate ACEs, which is really a shift. It's revolutionary in the way that we're seeing medicine."

FCHIP data shows, as of 2017, 18% of Fresno County households deal with four or more traumatic life events, households with children are higher at 21%.

The numbers are haunting for Hernandez, but she believes preventative action can turn that around.

"If every medical provider would screen in Fresno County, we'd see a lot healthier Fresno County," said Hernandez.
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