Holly Ridge can't catch a break

Heather Yeaman said she can’t imagine what her life would have been like for the past three years if it wasn’t for the Holly Ridge Infant and Toddler Program.

Her daughter, Aaliyah, was born two months premature with a host of medical problems. Heather enrolled her in the three-year program as an infant, and she was treated by physical and occupational therapists, speech therapists and placed under the tutelage of special education teachers.

Now three years old, Aaliyah speaks and walks. Next, the center’s professionals will teach her how to eat without a feeding tube.

That might not be possible, however.

The state budget proposed last month by Gov. Gary Locke eliminated funding for neurodevelopmental centers. Holly Ridge is one of 14 non-profits in the state that could be affected by cuts to the state Department of Health.

On paper, the cuts cost the center only $44,000. However, because of complex regulations governing the program, losing state support would set off a chain of additional reductions that could gut 40 percent of the program’s $1 million budget, according to Roxanne Bryson, Holly Ridge executive director.

The news couldn’t have come at a worse time for the agency, which served 330 children last year.

Employees were forced to move to a temporary location last week after Wildcat Creek washed out Taylor Road, the only access to Holly Ridge’s permanent facility.

Holly Ridge set up shop at the Bremerton Gateway Family Center, located at the corner of Montgomery Avenue and 6th Street. Classes have continued, but the partially remodeled office has only one telephone and no e-mail access or copy machines.

Not a good hub from which to launch a lobbying effort to save the center’s funding.

“It’s hard at this point to imagine what we’d look like,” Bryson said. “We have not brainstormed. We are kind of numb.”

Research shows early intervention is a highly effective way to deal with special health-care needs, said Sandra Spargo, the Holly Ridge special events and resource development coordinator.

Studies also indicate services like those offered at Holly Ridge result in lower costs to the state over the life of the individual, Spargo said.

If the governor’s reductions are enacted, the agency would be unable to bill Medicaid, said Kathy Fortner, director of the infant and toddler program. Holly Ridge also would lose access to Medicaid’s Administrative Match program, which funds services above and beyond treatments — “basically case management,” Fortner said.

Those cessations could prompt a federal cut.

“If the state can’t prove they are maintaining an effort, $209,000 in federal money will be lost,” Fortner said.

The reduction also will affect military dependents, who comprise 42 percent of the center’s clients. Kitsap County is a “catchment area,” one of a few locations in the country designated to provide services for Navy families with special-needs children.

“I wonder how someone could claim to be for the people of this state, and even consider the gross injustices to these families,” Yeaman said. “(Locke) is denying their chances to help the children have a positive growth pattern.”

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