Medical day care for NJ kids still closed 17 months into pandemic
TRENTON – Nearly 17 months after children’s medical day care facilities closed along with most everything else at the start of the pandemic, they remain shuttered without a reopening date in sight.
There are 13 children’s medical day care facilities around New Jersey, with space to provide care to around 350 young kids with extra health-care needs. They haven’t opened their doors since March 2020 although still provide some services, such as delivering food, providing educational materials and talking with parents regularly by phone to ensure medical and supply needs are met.
Patti Sullivan, a nurse and administrator of one of the programs in Central Jersey, points to other facilities with similar missions that are open – such as regular schools and daycare, adult medical day care, programs for people with developmental disabilities and schools for medically fragile children.
“So, we don’t understand,” Sullivan said. “I know these kids are different, but we just don’t understand why we’re not getting an answer and why they’re not even addressing us.”
Health Commissioner Judy Persichilli said at a COVID briefing in June that pediatric medical day care facilities are complicated but hoped they’d be able to reopen soon.
Department of Health spokeswoman Donna Leusner didn’t commit to a reopening date in an email Wednesday.
“The department is working on a plan for safe reopening that takes into account the highly transmissible delta variant and the fact that many of these medically fragile children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated,” Leusner said.
Sullivan said each of the licensed facilities around the state can serve up to 27 children at a time. She said they provide a safe, happy environment and important therapies for medically fragile kids.
“And we just feel bad that they have no place to go and that the parents, those who want to go back to work or need to go back to work really can’t because they have no place to put their kids safely,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said all the employees at her facility are vaccinated and ready to follow any and all safety guidelines.
She said children’s medical day care facilities serve children between the ages of 6 weeks and 6 years, transitioning them to a kindergarten program when the time comes. Some children have aged out of the programs in the past year and a half, and others referred by state or county agencies haven’t been able to get needed in-person help.
“And parents want to go back to work, need to go back to work. You know, we’re telling them we’ll get the process started but we have no idea when we’re going to open,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said the children are home with their families but are missing out on the speech, physical and occupational therapy and other help that nurses and social workers can provide. She said parents are also having to care for their other kids at the same time and, last year, supervise homeschooling.
“We miss them, and we want them back in services,” she said of the children. “I know they’ve fallen behind in a lot of stuff, and we just want to be open and these new kids that need our services, that’s what we want.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.