LYONS — Arc Wayne Director David Calhoun will be the first to tell you that early intervention is an effective way to help special needs children from birth to age 3 by attacking their challenges early on.
“It can offset long-time issues if you can get to them early enough,” he said.
But with state reimbursement rates to help pay for the program frozen at 1999 levels, it has become more difficult by the year to provide those services, he said.
This year might be the breaking point for the Newark-based agency, which provides both center- and home-based early intervention (EI) services.
Calhoun said with early intervention “woefully underfunded” across the state, Arc Wayne is pondering ending its program — which provides speech, physical and occupational therapy, as well as comprehensive evaluations of children to determine what, if any, therapies are needed.
If Arc Wayne does so, the program will not go away. It’s a federally mandated service, meaning Wayne County would have to find a way to fill the gaps.
Diane Devlin, director of Wayne County Public Health, brought the issue to Wayne County supervisors last week, telling them that Arc Wayne will lose nearly $14,000 for every child getting early intervention services in 2019 — whether program-based at Roosevelt Children’s Center in Newark or in the home.
“We’ve struggled with the program for years,” Calhoun said. “It’s taken a loss for multiple years.”
Indeed, Devlin said Arc Wayne’s early intervention operating deficit is about $250,000 a year, with that gap expected to only rise.
Calhoun said the agency doesn’t have the financial means to cover the deficit anymore, and Devlin said the state needs to step up.
“So think about working for 20 years without a raise, but your costs continue to rise,” she said. “The governor’s proposed budget provides a 5 percent raise to speech, occupational and physical therapies only. For Arc, this is $5,000 more in reimbursement annually. A drop in the bucket.”
Calhoun emphasized that the Arc workers providing early intervention services are getting pay increases — it’s just that Arc is footing the bill.
He emphasized that therapists working with the children “don’t come cheap.”
Devlin said the county would need to spend $1.3 million a year in salaries if it took over services from Arc, one of a small handful of agencies providing home-based services in Wayne County. Roosevelt offers the only center-based program.
Roosevelt has no plans to end its preschool for children ages 3 to 5 with special needs, Calhoun said. That program includes children without special needs as well.
“If Arc does this, then the EI program for Wayne County will greatly suffer,” Devlin said. “We already have children on a waiting list for services due to the lack of providers.”
Additionally, she said, children needing program-based services would need to be transported to out-of-county sites — such as Happiness House, which has programs in Geneva and Canandaigua. That will also increase transportation costs for the county, she said, adding there’s no guarantee that Happiness House or agencies in other counties could even take on an estimated 25 to 35 children in need of center-based services.
Devlin noted the county has already been absorbing some early intervention program responsibilities, including service coordination, where professionals work with parents or guardians to coordinate appropriate services for children. She said several EI providers have discontinued such services, resulting in the county hiring the equivalent of 2.5 full-time service coordinators.
Devlin said she brought the issue to supervisors to explain the “possible need to provide them (Arc) with some funding to keep the services in Wayne County. … It is cheaper to provide funding to Arc than to provide services ourselves.”
Rose Supervisor Kenan Baldridge, who heads the supervisors’ Health and Medical Committee, said the issue will be discussed at its meeting next Monday.
“The intended outcome is a resolution of some sort that would provide recommended action for dealing with the issue this year and possibly some recommendation for the board to advocate for additional state support,” Baldridge said. “The exact nature of the resolutions will depend in part on the feedback we receive from board members between now and then.”
Calhoun is hopeful something can be arranged with the county so that Arc Wayne can continue the beneficial program.
“We certainly want to keep providing the service,” he said.