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Budget crisis threatens disability center

September 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
The toll from California's lingering budget crisis appears to be growing. A number of regional health centers that help tens of thousands of children and adults with special needs are warning they may soon be forced to close their doors. One of the centers that may be forced to shut down is the Westside Regional Center in Culver City. This regional center provides the treatment and the therapies that are crucial for people living with developmental disabilities like cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and autism to name a few. Some 7,200 people rely heavily on the services of this center, but the state budget crisis threatens to change all that.

The sight of a 4-year-old at play can easily be taken for granted. But playing like this is something that Danielle Harold was never able to do. Danielle was one of a growing number of children with autism. Her mother, Christina Harold, described their early struggles.

"Getting from the house to the car would create a meltdown that would last literally for a couple of hours," said Christina.

The nonprofit Westside Regional Center is one of 21 centers statewide that provide services for people with developmental disabilities. Christina Harold credits the center with the strides Danielle has made. But her greatest fear now is that those services will soon end because of the state budget crisis.

"We're like the other regional centers: We're all on borrowed money," said Mike Denneker, the center's executive director. "And our line of credit has run out. We're sending our final checks out this Friday."

Jennifer Gibson is Danielle's supervising therapist. She agrees with Christina Harold, who says that for those like Danielle, who suffer from developmental disabilities, early intervention is key.

"If there were to be a lapse in those services, there would be irreversible damage to these children's lives," said Harold.

"My big fear is that a lot of our people need 24-hour care," said Denneker. "These are people that are medically fragile. They have to have somebody there to do everything from bathe to toilet to feed -- you name it, they have to have it done. So if there's nobody there, if our vendors -- so far, they've hung in there with us -- are saying, OK, we're going to try and get through this. But if they say, 'Listen, we can't do this,' people need money, they've got to pay their mortgages just like everybody else -- people can end up being dead."

Danielle Harold has made tremendous progress at the center, largely because of the early intervention she received and the dedication of the vendors and the therapists that provide the services. Denneker says if you talk to these folks, they are so dedicated that they are willing to continue to work, even if the money stops coming.

 

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