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St. Mary’s program for tots ending due to lack of funds

Photo by Christina Santucci
By Kelsey Durham

St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children has announced that it will end its more than 20-year-old Early Intervention program this spring due to a lack of adequate funding.

The Bayside facility announced Feb. 3 that the program is being phased out due to cuts made by the state Department of Health that are affecting reimbursement rates for early intervention programs across the state. St. Mary’s EI program serves children who have been diagnosed with special needs or other medical disabilities by providing education, therapy and other support services from birth until age 3. The program served nearly 3,000 children in 2013.

“After serious deliberation, we had to make a very difficult decision to close our EI program,” Edwin Simpser, interim president and CEO at St. Mary’s, said in a release. “We know that these are challenging times for other EI providers who are experiencing similar struggles and we will continue to advocate for more appropriate reimbursement rates for vital childhood programs, including Early Intervention, that are so essential to the success and future of our children.”

St. Mary’s said it has begun working with neighboring counties and the Bureau of Early Intervention to transition the 750 or so children currently enrolled in the EI program into programs at other facilities that can afford to continue their treatment. The facility said state budgets have not called for an increase in EI funding in more than a decade, and two recent cuts within the past 18 months were followed up by a 2014-15 budget proposal that keeps EI funding stagnant.

“Despite the growing need for service, Early Intervention rates have not increased in 12 years, making it almost impossible for not-for-profit providers to operate,” said Christopher Treiber, associate executive director for children’s services at a nonprofit called InterAgency Council.

St. Mary’s said the funding cuts will not affect any of its other programs, and it expects to continue all other areas of care. The EI program will officially come to an end May 5, and until then, Simpser said the facility will continue to focus on creating a smooth transition for the children who will be moved.

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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