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Susan McDowell

 Fixing a broken system

susan mcdowellSusan McDowell has a special place in her heart for children, especially those with the kind of psychological problems that often get overlooked in a typical clinical setting. She knew the system wasn’t working, and now, through the work of the McDowell Integrated Behavior Fund, she knows how to fix it.

When Susan McDowell was running a home for at-risk children, she learned all too well how inadequate were the systems for diagnosing and treating behavioral problems. Even when parents recognize the need for help, she observes, child psychologists are scarce and family practitioners are often insufficiently trained in dealing with psychological problems. “A pediatrician might not pick up on the fact that a child with stomach pains is terrified of something going on at home.” 

McDowell wants to be the voice for children who don’t have a voice of their own. “There are a lot of ‘broken’ kids out there — kids who are so full of fear or anger that they’re unable to learn, unable to make choices, unable to have good relationships. They are genuinely disabled, and the systems that are supposed to help them have failed.”

Thanks to her vision and generosity, the McDowell Integrated Behavior Fund supports pioneering approaches to psychological and psychiatric care for children and adolescents.

“We moved the basic delivery system from the hospital setting to family clinics,” says McDowell, who worked with Geisinger physicians and others experienced in behavioral health care delivery. Clinics are more accessible, and patients can get help without the social stigma of going directly to a psychologist. Adolescent psychologists have now joined Geisinger family practice clinics in Pottsville, Selinsgrove, and Bloomsburg, so family doctors can seek their advice or refer patients to them for treatment. 

When a child comes in to one of these clinics, doctors can spot certain symptoms that may indicate psychological distress. The psychologist becomes part of the team, working with the entire family. 

“We believe the evidence is going to show that this approach is working,” says McDowell, “We can’t call it a home run yet, but we have guys on second base.” 

Be a voice for the children who don’t have a voice of their own

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