DHH proposal eliminates program for kids with disabilities

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Thousands of parents raising children with special needs have their eyes glued on the Louisiana Capitol.

The House of Representatives wants to get rid of $268 million to make budget. To meet that demand, the state has asked the Department of Health and Hospitals to cut $100 million from its budget. That includes programs to help children with disabilities.

Jayli is a 5-month-old born with nerve damage. Her mom, Katie Simmons, said doctors in the neonatal intensive care unit discovered Jayli could not move her arms.

"She got movement back in one arm fairly quickly, but her right arm is a lot slower," Simmons said.

Simmons credits physical therapist, Jill Broussard, for helping to improve Jayli's motor skills.

"She used to not be able to reach out to her toys with it and she's starting to," Broussard said.

Broussard works for the Early Steps program, which provides in-home services to kids with disabilities and developmental delays, from the time they are born until they are three years old. She said it is crucial for those children to get therapy when they are infants.

"Some children who have had strokes and had part of their brain damaged, if they receive early intervention, the nervous system is so elastic and plastic they can work around that and you wouldn't know it later on," Broussard explained.

Broussard said a large percentage of children who get therapy as they grow are able to avoid surgery and additional services when they finish the program. That, she said, is what makes it so rewarding.

"I remember the first day she looked to the right. You would have thought she finished a marathon," Broussard added.

Teela is another one of Broussard's patients. The 17-month-old is visually and hearing impaired. She has also had a stroke. Her development requires speech, physical and occupational therapies.

Her mom, Shannon Woodside, said before Early Steps, Teela's tongue was so week she could not eat or hold a pacifier in her mouth. She can now. She is even starting to crawl. Woodside believes getting therapy at home boosted Teela's progress.

"They know they're safe, cared for and they know whatever happens at home is okay," Woodside said.

But, the care they receive in the comfort of their own homes is in jeopardy. Of the $100 million the state has asked DHH to cut from its budget, seven percent includes the Early Steps program, which would impact about 5,000 children in Louisiana. DHH estimates the services costs the state $2,300 per family.

"Why would you play with something that is helping the development or progress of children with disabilities?" Woodside asked.

DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein said the department has run out of options.

"We've looked at every nook and cranny in this department," Greenstein explained. "Without question, to achieve $100 million, we have to go into critical services to vulnerable populations."

The budget bill is before the Senate Finance Committee. Those members could vote to restore some or all of the cuts approved by the House.

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