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Published on September 30, 2019

Gundersen prioritizes ACEs as part of collaborative community effort

As part of a collaborative community effort to build a resilient and trauma-informed community, Gundersen Health System has identified adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and trauma-informed care (TIC) a system-wide strategic priority in 2019 and beyond.

What are ACEs?

An adverse childhood experience (ACE) is an event or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful – such as living with a parent struggling with addiction or mental illness, parental divorce or separation, witnessing violence, or experiencing abuse or neglect – and has lasting effects increasing the risk for poor health outcomes later in life.

Research estimates that nearly two-thirds of the population has experienced at least one. As ACE occurrences increase, so does the risk for negative health outcomes, including heart disease, cancer, depression, substance abuse and even early death.

With this established urgency to recognize and prevent ACEs, lessen the impact of ACEs through developing resilience, and become a trauma-informed organization, ACEs/TIC education was recently made mandatory for all Gundersen staff – regardless of role and patient interaction – to be completed by the end of 2019. More than 65% of staff have already completed the required education.

Gundersen Boscobel Area Hospital and Clinics is leading by example, boasting high staff participation numbers in the initial ACEs education course. "We are working hard to support this strategic initiative and are proud to see staff engagement related to this important education," shared Mandy Pettit, Gundersen Boscobel Director of Clinics.

Initial ACEs education is the first step toward integrating trauma-informed practices. "The first step in building the foundation locally is by creating the internal knowledge and understanding to best support trauma-informed values, actions and systems. The goal is to establish a foundation of shared knowledge and an understanding of ACE impact and the role of resiliency. We look forward to the potential impact we can have on our communities through taking action as an organization and community partner," Pettit shares.

Gundersen is just one player in this important community effort. A community coalition – comprised of representatives from local schools, government, non-profit organizations and others – is already working to engage and educate the public on the impact of ACEs, break the cycle of trauma in our communities and establish trauma-informed systems.

"Trauma-informed care provides a new perspective shift for understanding many health, behavioral and social problems. For example, previously we may have only seen a health problem, such as addiction, as the problem. In a trauma-informed lens, we may now see that health problem (addiction) as a symptom of the problem (ACEs)," explains Lacie Ketelhut, trauma informed care community coordinator. "With the right supports in place, experiencing adversity in childhood does not need to lead to poor health outcomes. Our community is working to change that risk pattern."

This work surrounding ACEs and TIC– for Gundersen Health System and the larger community – is still in early stages. The community can expect to hear and learn more as the collaboration and outreach efforts continue.

For more information and resources related to ACEs, visit gundersenhealth.org/aces. An in-depth video with Lacie Ketelhut surrounding ACEs, TIC and the related collaborative community effort can be found here

If community members have questions or concerns about the role that trauma has played in their life and health, or that of a loved one, they should meet with their healthcare provider to start the conversation.

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