Idaho Center for Autism Closes Doors
BOISE (KTVB) -- The director of Boise's Idaho Center for Autism has decided to close the facility notifying parents and staff by phone prior to shutting down last Wednesday.
The center provided education credits, workshops, advocacy and parent support to children with autism.
Despite looking for ways to keep it going Director Stephanie Spencer told KTVB Tuesday that the decision was a long time coming and was very emotional for all.
She started the center in 2006 and ended it last week with 40 students enrolled.
"I took a $10,000 loan from my grandma and made it work," said Spencer. "(At) our height we probably had 20-some employees full time and contractors."
Spencer said she found her passion in life and starting the center allowed her to help.
"I found what was meaningful in my life," she said.
However, through the years Spencer said her therapists and staff were starting to become limited in what they could do to help students due to federal- and state-mandated changes through the Department of Health and Welfare, as well as the recession's impact on families.
"The meaning was in the work and seeing these kids so infrequently when their needs were so high, you just lost the meaning in the work," she said.
Spencer says Idaho insurance companies are not mandated to provide funding for treatment, so that means families are relying on Medicaid to pay for the specialized kind of schooling the center provides, but that coverage has been changing.
"I think in the majority of other states in the country, insurance companies are required to pay for medically-necessary treatments. In Idaho that has never been pushed," explained Spencer.
Students were seen only two to four hours a week, which she said is simply not enough to make progress.
"If the state offered the child four hours a week of therapy, the family might chip in for the fifth or six hour," she said. "We just weren't able to help the people to the degree that we wanted to."
However, the agency kept pushing on without a permanent solution in sight.
"What do you do with an 8-year-old who has autism who has been kicked out of public school, and yet the state is saying he should be in school, the school is saying we can't serve him," Spencer said.
Nikki Forbing-Orr, public information officer for the Department of Health and Welfare, said after 2013 guidelines changed. Depending on the child, parents could use roughly 22 hours of insured benefits for treatment for their autistic child in a variety of different ways.
However, Forbing-Orr said the funding did not decrease and has remained neutral, just the benefits changed.
Going forward Spencer believes it will be up to parents and school districts to find a way to get autistic children the schooling and therapy they deserve.
"The families are going to have to carry this burden, they are going to have to talk to the state, (saying) you educate my child in the public school and give them quality care or we are going to have look at other avenues of helping them, including insurance coverage," she said. "I think Idaho cares but they just aren't sure what to do."