Palatine’s Little City celebrates wellness center

Little City resident Tony LaPorte loves to boast that he brushed his teeth and says he can’t wait to go back to the dentist, a remarkable transformation in attitude considering he dreaded those visits not too long ago.

But the 24-year-old, who has Down syndrome and lives on the foundation’s Palatine campus, isn’t the only one to have a change of heart.

A year since opening its Center for Health and Wellness, Little City is reporting similar success stories and numerous other healthy strides due to a partnership with Northwest Community Hospital that overhauled the way residents receive medical and oral care.

“There’s a gentleness here, how we treat folks with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Little City’s Director of Programs and ancillary Services Bob Shears said.

Staff, donors and community members who gathered Thursday at a reception to celebrate the anniversary of the center, the old administration building renovated to house training rooms, offices, and dental and medical exam rooms, say the numbers speak for themselves.

With a dedicated advanced practice nurse, part-time dentist, full-time hygienist and complete nursing staff on-hand, emergency room visits are down between 60 and 75 percent. And residents no longer have to make the 90-mile round-trip journey to Rockford to get a routine dental checkup.

“Those are trips that add another layer of trauma to their day,” Shears said. “We go at a slower pace with more explanation here.”

There’s been a reduction in cavities, and far fewer patients require sedation due to a dental desensitization program that focuses on relationships and breaks down a visit into less overwhelming steps like walking in the room and laying in the chair.

The new facility focuses not just on primary medical and oral health, but also on nutritional and dietary, recreational and social-emotional and behavioral health.

It has allowed for numerous projects that staff will consider permanently incorporating into Little City’s “integrated, holistic approach,” Director of Research and Project Development Kelly Goldstein said.

To continue its work, Little City said future funding will be vital. Executive Director Shawn Jeffers had to back out of the reception last-minute for a meeting in Springfield about just that.

Depending on the amount of support it receives, Little City hopes to one day offer its services to nonresidents.