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As Children's moves to end rehab services in key locations, parents of the vulnerable raise protest

Parents who rely on Children's for occupational therapy, speech therapy and other care face traveling another hour to the nearest facility.

ATLANTA — Children's Healthcare of Atlanta says it is consolidating outpatient rehabilitation services from nine area facilities to three - and parents of children in vulnerable health say it will leave them in a distressingly precarious spot.

Children's acknowledged this week that it was ending services at six facilities that parents with children - relying on a range of specialty therapies - say are critical to their kids' care.

Those Children's sites include Alpharetta HIghway, Mount Zion, Sandy Plains, Forsyth, Fayette and Satellite Boulevard. They're all scheduled to discontinue audiology and outpatient rehab at the end of the year.

The services will be consolidated to three remaining facilities - the Children's facility at Scottish Rite in Sandy Springs, Children's at North Druid Hills and the Children's facility at Town Center in Kennesaw. 

That leaves parents south of the city feeling especially neglected.

Jovan Purifoy said her daughter has been going to the Fayette Children's facility the majority of her life. The nearest facility still offering the services her child requires - North Druid Hill -, is more than an hour away.

"You're choking out our kids from getting occupational therapy, speech therapy. When you have all of these families out here who now have to travel all that way, it's unfair to us, and unfair to kids in the city," she said. "I thought they were just closing one location, and I asked, 'Well are you closing Mount Zion?' And they said 'yes, everything on the southside.'"

"And that's when anger set in, and confusion," she added.

Credit: Jovan Puriofy
Jovan Purifoy's daughter.

In a statement, Children's said, "Ultimately, after taking a close look at our outpatient rehabilitation program, we had to make this decision."

"Over several years, we've seen a decline in volume to the point where it is not practical to deliver outpatient rehabilitation care at these locations," the statement said. "While it may appear that affected clinics are busy, that is due to how we adjust our clinic days, hours and staffing, based on scheduled patient visits."

Parents who have started a petition, "Kids south of Atlanta matter, too! Keep CHOA South of Atlanta!," haven't found that explanation satisfying.

"What will the countless children receiving care at these facilities do for speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, feeding therapy, audiology...?" the petition asks. "This area already feels the crunch of having limited access. The demand is too high already! Wait times for evaluations are months to a year!"

The petition has 2,677 signatures out of a goal of 3,000.

"This seems so unlike Children's," one mom, Cerra Beach, said. "Children's is supposed to be this magical, wonderful place that really cares about helping our kids. And for them to go and close six of the nine locations just makes no sense to me."

She said she already brings her child 20 miles to the Fayette center. Getting to North Druid Hills would make it a more than 50-mile trip.

"I'm emotionally exhausted," she said. "We are having to fight for our kids, when really we have been fighting for them their whole lives when it comes to therapy services. As a mom, my job is to do everything I can to give my kids everything they need, and that will help them grow in to independent adults, and I can't do that. In this moment, I can't do that."

In its statement, Children's said it was still serving the south Atlanta area with a "range of pediatric specialty services" at Fayette, Hudson Bridge and Satellite Boulevard. Those include urgent care; ear, nose and throat; orthopedics; sports medicine; surgery; endocrinology; gastroenterology and more.

What it doesn't include, however, is the occupational therapy Vanessa Corrilo requires for her two twins, who were born premature at just 27 weeks and spent three months in NICU five years ago.

"Right now, my kids are going to be five in December, they are on a two to three-year-old level. Just because of being premature," she said. "Are they going to be pushed back longer and longer?"

Purifoy said Children's had been essential to her daughter's communication and socialization skills.

"My daughter has called me 'mom' because of CHOA. She didn't call me mom before," she said. "That's all the speech therapy she's gotten here. When you sit and think about the things that 'normal' kids do, without any help, without anything - and the things my daughter has had to work really hard to do, to call me mom, to walk, to put her fingers together, to color. These are skills for a basic child. And then they don't care that these are the things these therapists do for our kids."

"I do not appreciate CHOA throwing out kids and these therapists out to the street," she added. "Because of some consolidation that they still haven't explained to us."

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