Day care centers for fragile children to close

A metro Atlanta firm is closing its five Georgia day care facilities for medically fragile children.

Pediatria HealthCare, headquartered in Norcross, notified state officials this month that the closings are coming.

Pediatria’s president, Joe Harrelson, said on Thursday that after the closings, no day care facilities for medically fragile kids will remain in the state.

He said the closures are a reaction to state Medicaid officials’ becoming much more restrictive on allowing coverage for children to get medical day care services.

Three of the facilities are in metro Atlanta — Tucker, Smyrna and Stockbridge — while the others are in Columbus and Savannah.

Most of the children served, Harrelson said, “were born very premature. Many have digestive and respiratory problems.”

Many are dependent on supplemental oxygen, feeding tubes and tracheostomy tubes, he added.

Kimberly Oliver said her 4-year-old daughter, Kiley, has been going to Pediatria’s day care in Tucker since 2011. Kiley has multiple health problems, which include hydrocephalus (buildup of excess fluid within the brain), seizures, cerebral palsy and feeding difficulties. The day care closure “isn’t fair,” Oliver said.

“What are parents supposed to do?” she said. “No one will take her at a regular day care.”

The majority of the 40 remaining children in Pediatria’s day care facilities are covered by Medicaid, according to Harrelson.

The Department of Community Health, the Georgia agency in charge of Medicaid, said in a statement that it is working alongside Pediatria “to transition the children to in-home skilled nursing support services.”

Yet Harrelson said many parents prefer medical day care because it can be more dependable than in-home nursing, and it also offers developmental therapies. “They know their kids can get services 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday,” he said.

Day care is much less expensive than in-home nursing, Harrelson added.

Pediatria, a private company, will continue medical day care facilities in Pennsylvania, Florida and Louisiana. It also offers nursing care in several states, including Georgia.

The closures will mean fewer options for parents, said Karl Lehman of Childkind, an Atlanta nonprofit that delivers services for children who are disabled or have medically complex conditions.

“If you’re a parent with a medically fragile child, you don’t have day care any more in the state,” he said. That can make it harder for such a parent to hold a full-time job, Lehman added.

When the system makes it hard for providers to sustain services, the children and families — who are already dealing with challenging circumstances — are left in even more precarious conditions with little to no help, said Polly McKinney of Voices for Georgia’s Children.

“Through no fault of the family, these stresses can result in DFCS involvement or even harm or death to the child,” McKinney said. “We must do better as a state and as a society to find solutions to these sorts of sustainability problems.”

Oliver said that in-home care won’t provide the speech, physical and occupational therapies that Kiley needs.

“I don’t see why she can’t be in the day care,” she said. “It’s just really sad.”