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How we could provide better services to children with chronic health issues

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There was an intriguing gathering at the Community Foundation of North Central Washington Thursday night to discuss the possibility of developing a one-stop center to serve the medical needs of children with chronic health issues in the region.  Such a center might include a variety of consulting specialists, from mental health services, occupational and physical therapy and dentistry, to name a few. A similar program — Children's Village — has been developed in Yakima with some success. The meeting, convened by the foundation and United Way, was attended by a variety of folks from the medical community, social service agencies and some local businesses.  Dr. David Cook, a local pediatrician, said it is difficult for families to get to the myriad of services that are needed by children who have chronic health issues. He described one patient who juggled seven trips a week to various parts of the valley to care for the needs of an autistic child. "The way we are set up doesn't work for families," said Cook. With independent service providers scattered all over the community, "we do what is simple for us and make the family's job complex."  For families with means, it's difficult but for families of limited resources the task is daunting to get appropriate services.  It would be far more effective for families to make it more complex for the institutions and simpler for families, he argued. At Children's Village, they provide 31 programs in one location, although they do not do pediatric medical  care.  Dr. Sandy Melzer of Seattle Children's Hospital said the need is growing for serving these individuals. With advances in medical care, they are living longer. Meanwhile, there is a shortage of specialists and Medicare reimbursements are dropping. Developing a central facility would require great cooperation and a lot of hard work, he said.  This is the kind of visionary thinking that world-class communities entertain. It would be tremendously challenging to pull of something of that magnitude, but nothing worthwhile is easy. For  families  of limited means with children who have chronic health issues, the current system is untenable. Ignoring this impossible situation would be morally indefensible.