Parents and providers of early intervention services for children are concerned about cuts and changes they say are weakening the critical support system.
Leslie Weigand's son, Grady, is about two years old. He has special needs. Currently, four therapists visit the Weigand home to help Grady with life development skills. However, next month, his physical and speech therapists will no longer come to their home. His speech therapist won't be providing the service for them at all. In order to get physical therapy, the Weigand's will need to bring their son to a hospital. Leslie says that's very difficult on families, especially for parents who work full-time. She also says by having to go to a hospital, children with weakened immune systems are exposed to infections.
Leslie Weigand says, "He's been receiving early intervention since he was two and a half months old, pretty much from the same therapists the whole time. They're familiar with him, they know what he needs, he's comfortable with them. You sort of feel like you're losing a family member. They're here all the time and they're amazing support and educators."
One of the frightening things for parents about changes and cuts is that the number of early intervention in-home therapy providers is going down. Physical therapist, Colleen Williams, says there are reasons for that. Over the past two years, state reimbursement rates have been cut by fifteen percent. And, starting next month, instead of therapists contracting with the county, they'll need to contract directly with the state. Williams says at this point, there's not a real plan in place to pay therapists. To make matters worse, Williams says there's now a push to have therapists contract directly with insurance companies and to have those companies determine the effectiveness of therapies. That could mean more cuts. Williams says up until now, New York State has had an outstanding early intervention program that does a great job of helping families. She doesn't want to see therapists forced out of the specialty program.
Colleen Williams says, "The state isn't looking at the big picture. It's proven that for every dollar spent on early intervention there's a savings of between seven and seventeen dollars of future costs. Cutting early intervention now is going to impact children, families and the state's budget."
One of the main goals of early intervention programs, which are federally mandated, is to teach families how to take care of their children. And, try to keep people out of institutionalized facilities, which are very expensive. Williams says about one-hundred children in Broome County are on a waiting-list to see in-home therapists.