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Federal Medicaid cuts affect school programs



Published: Thu, April 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The program that provides funding for MRDD ends June 30.

By DENISE DICK

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- When Nina Britton was born, doctors told her mother the girl wouldn't live to see the age of 3.

"That was 13 years ago and here she is," said her father, John Britton. "Now she can feed herself with help, she talks, she can walk in the pool."

Nina, 13, was born with leukodystrophy, a progressive disease that causes a slowdown in mental and physical development.

Britton and his wife, Cindy, attribute much of Nina's success to the teachers and staff at Leonard Kirtz school and other Mahoning County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities programs.

But they worry about how the pending cuts due to loss of a state program will affect Nina and others like her.

Progress

Nina is picked up by bus at home and taken to the school where she spends her time in physical, occupational and speech therapy.

"When I first met Nina, the only two words she could say were 'hi' and 'uh-oh,'" said John Britton, who adopted Nina two years ago.

The cheerful redhead has added "gum," one of her favorite things, "Papa" and "Mom" to her vocabulary through the help of Leonard Kirtz staff.

"She loves going to school," Britton said.

Cindy Britton proudly displays her daughter's progress report from school that shows how Nina is faring with different tasks. She's learning to hold cups and eating utensils and can stand in a device designed to strengthen leg muscles for up to 30 minutes, the report says.

The county board expects a $3 million loss this year because of the end of the Community Alternative Funding System program. CAFS is a type of Medicaid reimbursement for services to disabled MRDD-eligible individuals and disabled schoolchildren.

The program pays for transportation and adult workshops and ends June 30.

The federal Medicaid agency stopped paying the state because Ohio failed to respond to the agency's request to make changes to the program, according to information from Mahoning County MRDD.

Effect of cuts

Cuts to programs are expected, and about 40 of the board's roughly 310 full-time staff are likely to be laid off.

Those are teachers, aids and transportation workers who really care, the couple says. Nina can't tell you when she needs to go to the bathroom or her stomach hurts, but teachers who have known the girl for years learned to read her body language and respond to her needs.

The Brittons have a van and will be able to get Nina to school if transportation gets cut, but not all parents with children at the school will be able to assume that responsibility.

"It's like they're picking on someone who can't defend themselves," Britton said. "What are these kids going to do?"

The Brittons have launched a phone call and letter-writing campaign. They want Gov. Bob Taft to visit the school for himself to see the people affected by the cuts.

Britton has contacted all of the area legislators and several county officials.

"I've even called the White House and left a message," he said.

They've been supportive, he said, but no one has a way to supplement the money being lost.

Britton pointed to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Doesn't that apply to children with mental retardation and developmental disabilities too, he questioned.




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