The University of Texas Medical Branch is opting out of a state-funded program that provides developmental care for young children, but officials say they hope to continue and improve on the program using the organization’s own resources.
On May 3, the medical branch informed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission that it would end its involvement in the state’s Early Childhood Intervention program.
In the letter, Cheryl Sadro, the medical branch’s chief business and finance officer, cited state restrictions on which patients were eligible for the program and a decrease in reimbursements from the state as reasons for leaving the program.
The state Early Childhood Intervention program is available to families with children younger than 3 years old who display signs of developmental delays, including autism and Down syndrome.
The program connects families with services, including specialists, pathologists and social workers, who can help guide families through the steps of taking care of a child with developmental delay.
The Galveston program serves about 300 families, said Dr. Oscar Brown, a professor and pediatrician at the medical branch.
“It is unsustainable in its current form.” Brown said. “It costs any sponsoring agency a lot of money to do this every year. Eventually, you have to make a decision and ask if there’s a better way to do this.”
“We think there is,” he said.
In recent years, state regulations had changed to require children to show more signs of a disability before they qualify for the state-funded aid, Brown said. That and difficulties created by an administrative takeover by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission prompted the medical branch’s exit from the program, he said.
The intervention program was once overseen by the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services. That legislature dissolved that department in 2016.
“Real complexities have developed that are very difficult to overcome,” he said. “We had an increasing amount of administrative burden.”
The medical branch still intends to provide intervention services, and it intends to serve people that might not have qualified under the state guidelines, Brown said.
“What we want to do is develop a program that isn’t beset with the limitations that we have had to deal with,” Brown said. “We want to give services to kids who qualify for services.”
A decreasing number of providers are participating in the intervention program. Since 2010, the number of providers has dropped from 58 to 46, according to The Texas Tribune. The program serves 50,000 children statewide.
The intervention program is historically underfunded by the legislature, and faced additional challenges because of recent legislative cuts to therapy programs.
In December 2016, a $350 million Medicaid cut to therapy funding went into effect. While some lawmakers had pledged to restore the cuts during this year’s legislative session, it didn’t happen.
Lawmakers did agree to provide a 25 percent restoration of the Medicaid funding for 2018 and 2019.
Galveston’s state-funded intervention program will end on Aug. 31. It will take time for the medical branch to establish its own complete program, Brown said. In the meantime, a provider from Beaumont will help with the transition, he said.