February 12, 2020 10:50:22 AM
Slim Smith - [email protected]
There are hundreds of daycare centers in the Golden Triangle, but none like PediaTrust in Columbus.
PediaTrust opened in June 2017 to provide daycare for an underserved group of children, as noted in its signage "Daycare for Medically Fragile Children."
Many of the children cannot walk. Some are vision-impaired, and most have serious cognitive disabilities. Jessica Jeremiah, the center's director of nursing, said 80 percent of the children are non-verbal.
And on one subject, so are the parents. When asked to share what PediaTrust has meant to their child and family, words are hard to find.
"I can't even say what it means to me," said Nya Sykes, whose 4-year-old son, Jayden Turner, has been attending PediaTrust almost since the center opened.
"All I can say is that it's a godsend for us," said Amanda Taylor, whose 12-year-old son, Clay, enrolled at the center when it opened. "There's nothing like it, nothing even close to being like it."
Funded entirely through Medicaid, the center's mission goes far beyond traditional daycare, providing the medical needs of the children, including therapy based on the child's needs, and development. The staff of 11 -- six pediatric nurses and five certified nurse practitioners -- attend to a broad range of medical needs. Some students are on ventilators, trachs, feeding tubes. Some are still in diapers even at age 10 or older. For those without transportation, the center runs two buses picking up and dropping off children all across the Golden Triangle.
It's a safe space for the children, a place that provides parents peace of mind in the knowledge that their children's needs are met by medical professionals, parents said.
With 34 years experience as a pediatric nurse, Jeremiah knows better than most the challenges that come with raising a child with serious, ongoing medical needs. Her own 14-year-old daughter is among the 35 children the center currently accommodates.
Her personal and professional experience has made Jeremiah the "go-to" source for the parents, often helping them apply for the daycare services as they navigate the Medicaid system.
Although Medicaid is in most cases an income-based program, families that earn above the income threshold can still qualify through a waiver called "disabled child living at home."
That's how the Taylors, with two working parents and another child, qualified for the program.
"It was a huge blessing for us," said Taylor, who works just down the street at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle. "It helps in so many ways. It's allowed me to keep my job and keep us on the hospital's insurance. They take care of his weekly infusions and therapy, which means I don't have to take off work to take Clay to therapy appoints all over town. It's a one-stop shop. Our family couldn't be more grateful."
Although medical care is a prominent part of PediaTrust's mission, the center has a strong focus on development, something that is important to Jeremiah.
"I see all these kids as my children," Jeremiah said. "I work every day to get for them what I want my child to have. All of the children can progress. We want them to have the best life they can have. For some, that might mean being stable and not deteriorating. For others, it's getting to the point where they can go to regular schools, regular daycares or pre-schools. Some children have been able to do that, which is great."
Clay is one of the children that split time between PediaTrust and regular school.
"He gets so much more (at PediaTrust) than he gets at school, nine hours of therapy and other help the school just isn't set up to provide," Amanda Taylor said. "(PediaTrust) is not an educational facility. It focuses on life skills -- being more attentive, learning to express himself better, and those things help with the educational part."
The impact of PediaTrust goes beyond the children. It extends to the family as well.
"I didn't have a lot of help with Jayden before," said Sykes, who has three older children. "Before (PediaTrust), every day it was, 'Lord, keep me sane.' Everything closes in on you. You're sitting there with that child, frustrated, worried about that child. It's very lonely.
"Now, well, I can't tell you how much this has done for me and my family," she continued. "I can't imagine where I'd be without them."
With a ratio of one staff person to three children, PediaTrust hopes to get the word out to the community.
"With the needs these children have, it's hard for to give kids that one-on-one attention we want them to have," Jeremiah said. "We would love to get the word out that we really need volunteers to come in and provide that attention. We want all of the kids to be involved in as many activities as possible and volunteers can really help us with that."
Toward that end, PediaTrust has invited community members to participate in a month-long reading program, which allows them to see the work the center is doing and, hopefully, volunteer.
No special skills are needed for that, Jeremiah said.
"We just need people to come in and help give the kids some personal attention," Jeremiah said. "That would mean so much to us."
For more information of volunteer opportunities, call PediaTrust at 662-570-1957.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]