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"It was a constant battle," said Benkert, who was told by doctors that her toddler simply had a strong personality. "We didn't know what to do."
But things got better for the Benkerts when Mariah started attending the early intervention and feeding disorders programs at St. Mary's Hospital for Children in Bayside, where the little girl finally learned how to eat and speak normally in the state's first such program.
Mariah's mother told her story to Queens lawmakers last Thursday at a hospital luncheon where the medical center's officials lobbied against cuts to Medicaid and state budget proposals that could hurt St. Mary's.
The hospital, through its 97-bed Bayside facility, its Ossining, N.Y., center and many community-based programs, serves 3,000 chronically ill and severely disabled children in the New York area.
Legislators at last Thursday's luncheon included state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone), state Assembly members Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside), Nettie Mayersohn (D-Flushing), Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) and Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood), Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), and former Borough President Claire Shulman, who chairs St. Mary's Advocacy Committee.
"Everything we do depends on the performance of Medicaid," said Dr. Burton Grebin, president and chief executive officer of St. Mary's Healthcare System. "You have the power as legislators and decision-makers to impact the system," he said.
Grebin said 37 percent of special-needs children live below the poverty line. But contrary to popular belief, the bulk of Medicaid dollars actually go to caring for frail, elderly people rather than children, he said.
Worrisome proposals for St. Mary's in the state budget include a 6 percent tax on nursing homes that would be partially reimbursable and a 0.7 percent non-reimbursable tax on home care programs.
The latter tax would cost St. Mary's about $500,000 - money that could otherwise go to caring for children, said Mark Hoffacker, St. Mary's advocacy manager.
Another proposal would shift the funding of care for special-needs poor children away from Medicaid to Child Health Plus, which caps home care visits at 40 a year, even though St. Mary's children often require many more such visits, said Hoffacker.
Benkert was on hand to make the point that reforms to early intervention program funding - which could include limits to the number of services a child can receive in a week - would do harm to infants and toddlers like her daughter who need help.
"Please support St. Mary's," said Benkert. "Please support early intervention. We need as much help as we can get."
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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