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Children facing crisis in statewide service shortage

November 27, 2018 11:32 PM

Hundreds of local families in search of services for children under the age of three could soon be in limbo.

Starting Dec.1, Monroe County will begin putting children on a waiting list to apply for early intervention services to see if their children qualify. 

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The services include speech, physical and occupational therapy for developmental delays or disabilities that research shows aid in a child developing to their full potential as an adult. 

It's all because of a shortage of providers and therapists caused by funding and reimbursement issues. 

According to The Children's Agenda, service coordinators are reimbursed less now compared to 20 years ago, forcing many service providers to leave the industry and many agencies to close their doors. 

Among the casualties in Monroe County include Stepping Stones Learning Center and Occupational Therapy of Rochester. 

"So many programs have closed because they can't afford to stay open," said Tracey Taylor, an occupational therapist providing early intervention services. 

Taylor's two children also benefited from those early intervention services. 

"One of the wonderful things about early intervention is it's a parent training program," explained Taylor. "It wasn't just the time the speech therapist worked with them, it was the 90 percent of the time my husband and I worked on those same skills with our own boys."

With no rate increases for occupational, physical and speech therapists in the past two decades, less than half the number of service coordinators remain in Monroe County compared to 15 years ago. 

The issue is creating a snowball effect of service shortages and revenue problems. 

Right now, 46 kids are cleared for services, waiting for spots to open up. 

As of December, Monroe County is placing any new families referred to apply, to sit and wait to even begin the application process to see if their child qualifies. 

On average, the county receives 200 referrals a month. 

All those families will now be forced to wait indefinitely. 

Taylor says agencies get reimbursed for processing referrals even if families wind up not qualifying. Now that these families can't begin that process until spots open up, agencies will be losing out on that revenue as well. 

She says that can and will likely result in more layoffs or cutbacks as agencies, already operating in the red, lose even more critically needed revenue. 

"You can't operate a business if you can't make ends meet and compensate your employees," said Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo. 

Dinolfo says back in 2011 New York state incorporated rate increases for providers into the budget to fix this issue but says it went unfulfilled.

On Tuesday, she announced that reforming this broken system is a top priority for her in 2019, even telling News10NBC she'll join the class action lawsuit that The Children's Agenda is contemplating launching against NYS to push them into action. 

"The right thing to do is for the state, the Department of Health and the governor to say 'enough we're going to go back and fulfill the promises we made,'" said Dinolfo. 

There is a petition circulating about the issue that can be found here.

Credits

Beth Cefalu

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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