Therapy services help Seward kids

June 01, 2016
AK Story 2Rosemary Youngblood bounds into the speech and occupational therapy room at Providence Seward Mountain Haven, her flyaway hair in multiple braids and a big smile on her face. She’s heading straight for a rehabilitation ladder and hops up the steps, counting 1-2-3 until she reaches the platform. Then, back down she goes: Hop-hop-hop, 1-2-3. She is a rambunctious, active 3-year-old, who talks constantly.

It’s welcome behavior after more than a year of therapy. Diagnosed on the autism spectrum, Rosemary barely spoke a year ago. Now she is a “chatty Cathy.”

“When her mother told me, ‘Rosemary is driving me crazy, she just won’t stop talking,’ I told her, ‘It’s like a speech pathologist’s dream.’ It was the best news I could have had,” says Lila Hurst, a speech pathologist and supervisor of rehabilitation services at Seward Providence Medical Center and Seward Mountain Haven, a long-term care facility that also offers outpatient services for clients of all ages.

A partnership serving kids with special needs

In the small seaside community of Seward, Rosemary is benefitting from a partnership between Providence Health & Services Alaska and the Infant Learning Program, operated under the auspices of SeaView Community Services. This was one of many community benefit programs supported by Providence in 2015.

Babies and toddlers suspected of having special needs such as autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome, are initially evaluated. Educational and rehabilitation specialists then help families navigate the often-scary path of seeking out the best care for their kids. Sometimes, the children only have minor speech impediments; sometimes it's more serious.

“We work together with families to find the right relationships and the right kind of care for their children,” said PJ Hatfield-Bauer, director of the Infant Learning Program. “A lot of times, they don’t have the income to find the right help or the knowledge of where to look.”

Learn more about the Infant Learning Program.

Financial assistance makes treatment possible

Providence supports the program with a reduced-rate therapy program. Once Hatfield-Bauer identifies a child who would benefit from services such as speech or occupational therapy, she reaches out to Providence. Therapists at Providence then provide further evaluation and assist in finding a definitive diagnosis, which helps families navigate the insurance systems for potential reimbursement of services. A big part of their job also is in educating parents, who can be overwhelmed when presented with a serious diagnosis.

“We only charge for the initial evaluation and even that is a minimal charge,” Hurst says. “If the child needs additional therapy, Providence will then absorb the cost.”

Rosemary is one of many success stories

Rosemary does not disappoint in bringing smiles to her caregivers. As she chatters a mile a minute, Hurst and the occupational therapist, Karin Hardy, work to get the little girl to focus – guiding her to a foam mat in one of the therapy rooms, where she will look through picture books and work with moldable, tactile clay that helps children on the autism spectrum get used to different sensations.

“When she first came here, she was just under 2 and she was unable to speak, had no language and did not look you in the eyes,” Hatfield-Bauer says. “Now look at her. It’s amazing.”

“PJ and I, when we work with these kids, they just melt our hearts,” Hurst adds.

Every child has a champion in this community

Living in a small community makes it even more important to have a village-to-raise-a-child mentality, Hurst and Hatfield-Bauer agree. Providence, with its long tradition of providing compassionate care, is doing just that. Visits with Rosemary have become a high point of their week, and they are amazed at her progress. She is one of many success stories they like to celebrate at Providence Seward.

“These kids really impact our lives,” Hurst continues. “Our motivation is when you see them thriving. It’s a huge and important job that we do, and we love it.”