1992 — 2012: Special Needs Clinic

The Special Needs Clinic was founded in 1992 and specializes in the mental health treatment of HIV-affected families.

Sheila began as an intern, became their first employee, and then a co-director.

With Sheila’s help, the clinic has treated almost two thousand patients:

Since its inception, the clinic has treated over 1,600 socioeconomically disadvantaged children, adolescents, and adult family members who are themselves HIV-positive or are living in families with HIV-infected and/or drug-addicted family members; it currently has approximately 300 patients at any one time and is staffed by more than 20 clinicians and lay staff.

— From the HIV Center’s Winter 2011 E-Newsletter.

The Columbia University web site describes it this way:

Special Needs Clinic

Sheila Ryan, CSW, M.P.H.,
Program Director 

New York-Presbyterian Hospital
Vanderbilt Clinic Building, 4th Floor

The Special Needs Clinic, one of the only specialized child psychiatry clinics of its type in New York City, was founded in 1991 to meet the mental health needs of children and families affected by the dual epidemics of HIV and substance abuse. To address many of the limitations of the current mental health system, the clinic has developed a multidisciplinary mental health team providing comprehensive family based services to adults and children in one site. In addition, the clinic has developed close working relationships with medical services providing care to HIV infected adults and children at New-York Presbyterian Hospital in order to increase the identification, engagement and referral of children and families in need of mental health services. The Special Needs Clinic provides comprehensive integrated mental health services as follows: psychiatric evaluation of children and adults; individual psychotherapy for children and adults, with expertise in therapeutic issues associated with illness, death, bereavement, substance abuse and family disruption; family and marital therapy; group therapy; psychopharmacologic treatment of children and adults; developmental, cognitive, and language evaluations with recommendations of educational placement formal behavior modification training for parents of toddlers and school-age children with behavioral problems (hyperactive, impulsive, and conduct disorder; permanency planning, with expertise in facilitating planning with entire families; individual risk reduction counseling as well as provision of safe sex materials for both adults and sexually active adolescents; outreach services, including home and school visits as well as regular conferences with outside staff involved with family care; crisis intervention, including facilitation of psychiatric hospitalization when indicated and management of families with sudden parental incapacity active involvement with the Administration of Children’s Services for children in foster placement; and referral for substance abuse treatment for adults.

— From “Department of Pediatric Psychiatry” on cumc.columbia.edu.

2 thoughts on “1992 — 2012: Special Needs Clinic

  1. Leslie Kendall

    I was thinking of my friend as she was that and so much more to me. I am alive because of her and so is my beautiful daughter Cheryl who has Sheila as her middle name. I’m sure her family remembers my daughter as Sheila took her home one night when I really needed someone and she stepped in. I loved this lady like no other. She was an Angel put on earth for all those at that clinic. We had disagreements but never did it ever take away the respect or love I will always have for her. She stood at my fiancés funeral which was standing room only for two hours and waited for me while her husband waited outside as she knew I needed to be hospitalized. Finding out today I have lost woman who had become my therapist, my mom and most of all my friend truly is painful. Sheila is finally resting in peace she was always working. I will miss our intermittent phone calls I guess thats why I’m just finding out she’s gone but she will forever have a piece of my heart. Love to her family for sharing her with soooo many.

    1. Matthew Post author


      Thank you for sharing this note — I’ll make sure that other members of Sheila’s family see it. I’m sure they will appreciate the reminder of all of the lives she touched.

      — Matthew


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