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Developmental Services at Murrieta Medical Plaza

Oct. 2, 2019 – I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with many branches of Developmental Services over the course of my travels, and today, I spent the morning with the 40+ employees comprising our Murrieta Medical Plaza team. With the exception of a few programs made possible through County of San Diego funding, all Developmental Services available at our San Diego locations — such as autism services; developmental evaluations; and speech, physical and occupational therapy — are also available here.

I began my visit with Shelley Turner, manager of Developmental Programs and Services. She then introduced me to Izabella “Bella” Lopez, a developmental specialist who oversees the Healthy Steps program, and Jennifer Honda, one of the Medical Plaza’s occupational therapists, so I soon had a trio of guides to lead me through my tour. Right off the bat, all three women expressed that their team has received a warm welcome from the southwest Riverside community, and that many families have expressed gratitude for the new care possibilities their kids can enjoy right in their neighborhood. Since that was what our expansion was all about, I was thrilled to hear that families are feeling well cared for, close to home.

Getting the lowdown on Healthy Steps

Bella took the lead on the first leg of our tour: meeting the Healthy Steps team! First 5 Riverside funds this program, which aims to support families with kids under age 5 through behavioral, developmental and mental health screenings implemented at regular well-child visits. Based on the child’s needs, Healthy Steps can also connect families to additional resources and referrals, offer guidance between visits, and coordinate care so the child’s development can be closely followed. With one other location at our Children’s Primary Care Medical Group in Temecula, Bella noted that this is a unique program for the area. She also explained that while Healthy Steps is currently open to families receiving TRICARE or Medi-Cal benefits, they hope to expand availability to all families in the area. Another major goal is making Healthy Steps screenings a part of all young children’s regular wellness checkups — early intervention is key in optimizing outcomes for kids! It was also encouraging to learn that in addition to offerings for children, Healthy Steps provides support for parents as well, such as those in need of help with postpartum depression. Resource groups, support systems and hotlines are all central to ensuring Healthy Steps families have access to help at essentially any time. Clearly, they are doing things well — despite starting to see patients just a few months ago in May 2019, they are nearly halfway to their patient goal for the entire fiscal year. That’s more than 400 kids helped in just four months.

Finding out what the obstacle course had in store for me

Next up was the occupational, physical and speech therapy observation room, where an obstacle course was waiting for me! Developmental Services Aides Claire Brizard and Diana Tinajero joined Jennifer in making sure I knew the ropes — literally. After rolling a dice to guide me to my first activity, I ended up standing on a rope swing, which the experts explained encourages vestibular movement, or motions that challenge balance and equilibrium. Interestingly, this type of movement can help not only with motor skills, but with speech production as well! I also found myself back in a ball pit and playing tic-tac-toe, which Claire, Diana and Jennifer said is a helpful tool for honing fine motor and speech skills, especially in older children. We then moved on to the OT/PT offices, where I was able to chat with the friendly front desk and scheduling team, and into the 360 Sports Medicine gym, a common spot for therapy sessions. I was thrilled to have the chance to meet a family in the gym, and was touched to hear them recount their positive experience with the Medical Plaza team and the exciting changes they’ve seen in their child.

After popping by 360’s gorgeous rooftop workout deck (where do I sign up?) and the main OT/PT gym, it was time to move on to the behavioral health team. A large focus within this space is on autism services, which Shelley noted was a great need in this community, and on mental health. Shelley and Senior Director of Developmental Services Kristin Gist even gave me a sneak peek at a space they are working to transform into a mental health hub. I really saw the vision, and cannot wait to see the even greater impact this will have on youth in the area. I also had the chance to learn more about the ins and outs of evaluations for autism spectrum disorder, which are quite comprehensive and typically last for four hours, and to have a conversation with Dr. Victoria Moore, a clinical psychologist. Despite the often challenging space she works in, I was struck by how apparent it was that she loves what she does, and was pleased to hear how much she’s enjoying having Murrieta as her home base.

A fun welcome at Alexa’s PLAYC!

For our last stop, we paid a visit to Alexa’s PLAYC. It was incredible to see the students interacting with their teachers and learning from one another, and I know this effect will spread exponentially as the classes continue to grow. As we stepped out onto the Alexa’s PLAYC playground, the team had a “Welcome Patrick” sign serving as a colorful backdrop for passport stamping and signing, conversation, and cookie distribution! I left grateful for the opportunity to connect with staff and families alike, and to revisit this beautiful addition to the Rady Children’s community. See you again soon, Murrieta!