LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - As the state tries to come up with $900 million to fill an enormous budget hole, a service parents of children with disabilities rely on could be eliminated. A $1.6 million cut in funding to pediatric day health centers has been proposed, which would essentially shut down all 22 centers, that serve 650 medically-fragile children.
Five days a week, close to 40 children with medical needs receive specialized care at PediaTrust in Lake Charles, the area's only pediatric day health center.
"Most of our children are four and younger, so they're still in the infant phases and they're not able to be in a traditional daycare or even in a pre-K setting right now," said Kathleen McFarlain, assistant director of nursing at PediaTrust.
This center opened its doors in March 2015, offering a service that parents of children with special medical needs had never been offered before. There are nurses, doctors, therapists, and teachers.
Happy Jenkins' son, Jeremiah, was born with end stage renal failure and now, at age four, continues to rely on dialysis. Jenkins is a registered nurse and her husband is a teacher. She says PediaTrust has allowed both of them to work, while knowing their son was being give the care he needed by qualified professionals.
"I have a peace of mind. I don't have to worry about if anything happens to him," said Jenkins. "He's been here for about a year now and I've just seen him become a social butterfly."
Karen Allen's son, Dominic, is 19 months old and needs oxygen therapy each day, along with a peg tube to be fed.
Allen moved to Lake Charles from the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina. She has no family in the area to help her care for her son and although she tried utilizing home health nurses, they were inconsistent and unreliable. PediaTrust has also enabled her to go back to work.
"Since my baby's been at this daycare center, it's just been like a life-saver, like this place is definitely a lifeline," said Allen.
But that lifeline could end if the state follows through with proposed budget cuts.
"We are funded by Medicaid," said McFarlain. "One third of our funding is from the state and then the federal government matches two thirds of our funding."
Without the state's funding, these centers cannot operate and most parents cannot afford the nearly $300 per day it would cost out-of-pocket.
"There's a bunch of hard-working families that have to go back to work and without this, we don't have that opportunity to go back to work," said Jenkins.
Parents of children served by PediaTrust say if its doors were to close, they would have to quit their jobs because traditional daycares will accept their children.
"If they were to go close the programs today, I would just have to quit my job. I have three other kids besides Dominic, so I wouldn't even have income for him anymore to take care of them," said Allen.
This proposed budget cut hits at the heart of parents like Allen, who do not see an alternative for reliable care.
Yet, the state is working in red and money has to be found somewhere to balance the budget. These parents are begging lawmakers to look elsewhere.
"It's hard to raise a disabled kid by yourself with noone to count on," said Allen, "but when my kid comes to PediaTrust, I know that he's safe and I know that professionals are taking care of him and there's no other place like PediaTrust."
Advocates for these centers are at the State Capitol this week to fight for these children in person.
PDHCs are attempting to work with the Department of Health and Hospitals on financial options to save the program. A big meeting to address the proposed cuts is set for Wednesday at the special session in Baton Rouge.