Program Provides Therapeutic Bridge for Families

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When Kerri Horowitz’ husband broke the news in March that he had lost his job in sales, the first words out of her mouth were, “What are we going to do about speech therapy?”

Maya, the baby of the family at 2 years and a few months, had just started therapy in February because of delayed speech. It had only been a short time, but Kerri said they were seeing vast improvements.

“That was my first worry. I didn’t want to see her set backwards after she was making such progress,” said Horowitz, 34.

Fortunately, the Hands On Therapy program offered through Tucson Medical Center, with the support of The Stonewall Foundation, was able to help make sure Maya was able to stay on track.

The Stonewall Foundation announced this month that it will once again fund pediatric therapies for children whose families otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the treatments.

Oftentimes, the 24-year-old program is a last resort for families who aren’t insured or can’t pay for necessary treatment, or can serve as a bridge to provide interim services while awaiting authorization.

 “This program helps us treat children,” said Mary Lou Fragomeni, manager of pediatric therapies. “We are able to provide individual therapy through this program for children who couldn’t get this service any other way.”

Sometimes, families are in the so-called “notch group,” making too much money to qualify for health insurance for the indigent, but not enough to afford insurance. Other times, high co-pays or high deductibles might be a barrier.

Sebrina Baggett, a 23-year-old recruiter, said her family’s $2,000 deductible made it difficult for her young daughter, Odette, to get services. But thanks to Hands on Therapy, Odette has been getting needed services for the past six months.

“It’s been incredible to watch the gains she’s making,” Baggett said. Not only has her daughter shown progress in being able to listen and pay attention, but she has learned tips she can use at home to help Odette continue her improvements.

About 130 uninsured or underinsured children were helped in 2011, with enduring support from the Stonewall Foundation. Physical, speech and occupational therapies are available.

Fragomeni said early intervention is paramount. “In every area of therapy, the research shows the sooner you start, the sooner you can impact the lives of these children.” For example, she said, therapy can essentially erase deficits in a child with torticollis, which is a stiff neck that can restrict mobility and lead to a misshapen face and head. But, she noted, they really have to be seen before they’re six months old for the treatment to be effective.

It doesn’t hurt that the therapy often takes the form of play, which prompts Fragomeni to joke at one recent session that the therapy room is the happiest place in Tucson. It takes strength to climb stairs on a slide, it takes core strength to sit up and it takes some degree of coordination and balance coming down. It takes strength to climb in and out of a pit filled with balls. It takes coordination to throw balls into a hoop.

“Ready, set,” Fragomeni prompts Maya, who responds, “Go!”

The program provides a maximum of 12 hours of therapy per year per patient. While children up to age 16 have participated in the program, the vast majority of the patient population ranges from newborn to 5 years.

Rick Small, president of The Stonewall Foundation, said his family has been providing support to TMC for decades. He said the organization prefers to steer resources to a specific program on an annual basis rather than take a scattershot approach to donations.  “We think having a program that can be a consistent recipient of funds helps provide a longer-term impact.”

Although the Foundation gives to 16 different organizations, Small said part of the foundation’s interest is to support educational efforts and programs for young people, which meshes well with the therapy program.

Michael Duran, vice president and chief development officer for TMC, applauded the organization’s philanthropic efforts. “The Stonewall Foundation has impacted the lives of so many children in Southern Arizona,” Duran said.  “All of us at TMC, and especially the children and families who continue to benefit from this program, are grateful for their continued support.”

As for the Horowitz family, dad already started a new job. But the program was there to serve as that bridge during that rough patch, and while he’s waiting for his insurance to kick in. Maya continues to show gains in her communication skills.

“Every day we’re seeing progress,” Horowitz said. “So to be able to continue her sessions is really a miracle. It has really given us peace of mind, knowing she’s not going to lose those gains she’s been making.”

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