For 20 years, thousands of city kids with special needs have benefited from an early intervention program at a children's hospital in Queens, but state budget cuts are making it too difficult for the program to continue to operate. NY1's Arlene Borenstein filed the following report.
Two-year-old Jeffrey is a happy boy who suffers from symptoms of autism. His 4-year-old brother, Joshua, also suffers from the condition, but a more severe case.
Since they were born, the St. Mary's Healthcare System for Children has provided them at-home visits from specialists, at no out-of-pocket cost, through their early intervention, or EI, program.
"It's an educational program, but in the educational program, there are needs for different types of therapy, for occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy," said Theresa Hutter, who is involved with community programs in the St. Mary's Healthcare System.
However, as a result of state budget cuts, Hutter said that they'll have to close the program this May. The boys' mother, Alondra Moro, says it's a shame because she's watched the milestones her kids have reached, especially Joshua, who was in the program from birth until aging out at four.
"Now, he's better at eating by himself with the occupational therapy, and physically, he can walk better," Moro said through an interpreter.
Despite Governor Andrew Cuomo's recent claims of a state budget surplus, Hutter says that the program hasn't received an increase in state funding for more than 12 years.
"With a very heavy heart, St. Mary's had made the determination that they need to close the program due to the negative financial impact that this has had," Hutter said.
Officials with St. Mary's say that their early intervention program serves around 3,000 children with special needs a year to help kids like Joshua and Jeffrey succeed.
"We want to provide quality services for the children, who are our future, and the investment that we can make in them, which we know will be able to, in the long run, be a cost savings," Hutter said.
The children participating in the St. Mary's program will be transferred to other early intervention providers.
NY1 reached out to the Cuomo administration, and the governor's office had no comment.
Health care officials at St. Mary's hope that the state will rethink these cuts and provide the funding they've needed for more than a decade.