Budget cuts a concern at Padua Pediatrics

“Who doesn’t respond to human touch?” asked Deborah Lansing, an administrative assistant at Padua Pediatrics in Belle Chasse

During a recent visit to the 24-hour, intermediate-care facility for developmentally delayed children and young adults up to age 25, clients sponge-painted, played games, read books and colored with active treatment technicians.

 

Each “consumer” may have different developmental issues, but all activities at Padua are designed to increase tone, hand-eye coordination, motor skills, weight-bearing skills, mobility and environmental awareness.

“We try to make sure we stimulate them with different activities,” said Germaine Stevenson, service coordinator.

“The ladies (technicians) are phenomenal,” Lansing said. “I’ve seen so many (clients) grow.”

Lansing pointed out one young man, Jeremiah C., who wasn’t expected to talk because he was labeled with severe and profound mental retardation. Since living at Padua, he says a few words and workers’ names.

“He is really learning,” Lansing said.

Recent state budget cuts of 3.7 percent threaten the work of Padua Community Services run by Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans. The pediatric facility and Padua’s three adult day healthcare facilities, five community homes for those up to age 70 and a waiver program providing independent living for developmentally delayed individuals all will be affected.

Money is always tight

Padua business manager Leander Johnson said 94 percent of Padua’s budget comes from Medicaid. The other 6 percent comes from donations.

“Even if there were no budget cuts, we struggle to find funds to cover things that Medicare doesn’t fund,” Johnson said, citing specialized wheelchairs and formula.

“We get it done, but it’s not easy,” Johnson said. “We, along with other agencies, can’t sustain cut after cut every year and continue to provide the services that are needed for those who can’t provide for themselves.”

Johnson said Padua is considering internal cuts, such as transportation, and is working on more creative ways to reach donors. Already, organizations such as the Knights of Columbus councils, Plaquemines Parish Toys for Smiles and the Louisiana Hospitality Foundation hold fund-raisers and events.

“We will do whatever we can to make sure the quality of care will not diminish,” Johnson said.

Humble beginnings

Padua is the only pediatric, active-treatment facility within hundreds of miles of New Orleans, said Catholic Charities’ executive director Gordon Wadge.

It opened in 1977 for severely disabled children under 18 in Belle Chasse and was housed in a former hospital donated by the Hero family. Its opening resulted from a federal mandate to open a home for its severely disabled children as a result of class action suit called “Gary W” that was brought against the state requiring Louisiana to house its own severely disabled children, said Daughter Charity Sister Anthony Barczykowski, now executive director of the Department of Community Services.

Sister Anthony recalled how she as former associate director of Associated Catholic Charities drove to a site in Texas to retrieve Louisiana children being housed there.

 

“The children that we saw (in Texas) were not physically abused, but they were lined up in beds next to each other and had no space to develop physically,” Sister Anthony said. “We were told by the state that the children would not make the trip.”

Padua House – as it was originally called – became a home away from home where disabled individuals have thrived.

“I wanted it to be homey,” Sister Anthony said of Padua House. “There was always ambiance. As much as possible, we wanted to work with children (and see what they could do) to help them develop physically and emotionally. The children blossomed. …The program has been very successful. We have helped many, many children.”

With budget cuts looming and so many organizations fighting for money, Sister Anthony worries about Padua.

“It is a vital mission of our church,” she said. “Our society doesn’t care too well for the poor, disabled or the mentally ill. But it’s what Jesus taught us to do, and it’s always those programs that are targeted (by the state and federal government) to cut. But in addition to the services offered by Padua, it’s advocacy on clients’ behalf. If you lost this program, you lose that whole service. We all have the responsibility to care for the poor. Advocacy keeps the needs visible to politicians and those who don’t want to know.”

Many of Padua’s clients don’t have family nearby to help with care.

“This is their home,” Stevenson said. “We are their family. We are here every day. We are the ones that care for them. Their families put them here so they can still get the love and nurturing they need.”

“The family atmosphere of Padua could not easily be replicated in a nursing home since nursing homes are geared to older people,” Sister Anthony said.

Wide range of services

Today, 27 children and young adults with varying needs live at Padua Pediatrics. Lansing says clients have individual 24-hour schedules depending on their needs. During the school year, many attend school during the day and have active treatment programs before and after school.

It was these clients for whom Catholic Charities’ vice president of health ministry Samantha Pichon and Wadge were advocating during recent state budget hearings in Baton Rouge. Wadge spoke before the Senate Finance Committee urging that there be no cuts in spending for Catholic Charities’ programs such as Padua Community Services, PACE day care center and others, while Pichon met in early June with Department of Health and Hospitals’ undersecretary Jerry Phillips.

“Every year this program is on the chopping block,” Pichon said specifically about Padua House.

Donations to Padua Community Services may be sent to 200 Beta St., Belle Chasse, LA 70037. Contributions are tax-deductible and the donor will receive acknowledgment. Individuals also are encouraged to contact their senators or the Department of Health and Hospitals to lobby for Padua.

            Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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