Each year, 1,400 children are born in Allegheny County that Children's Home & Lemieux Family Center CEO Pam Schandwald says will need skilled nursing care every day of their entire life. Until a law was passed in Pennsylvania this year, those "medically fragile children" were no longer able to get the care at Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care Centers like the Children's Home after their 9th birthday.
Today, Governor Tom Corbett ceremonially signed HB 1960 at the children's home upping that to the age of 21.
State Rep Randy Vulakovich (R-Shaler) championed the bill in the house. He said facilities like the Children's Home & Lemieux Family Center provide an amazing service. "The people who work with these families and children, that strength we don't all have that they do, God bless them," said an emotional Vulakovich at the ceremonial signing attended by many of the kids that receive care at the center.
The representative's drive to increase the range of eligibility was sparked when he met 8-year-old A.J. Schwirian who has congenital muscular dystrophy and has been a client of the center since he was five months old. Pointing at A.J. during the event, Vulakovich said he was inspired by A.J. and went to work right away to find out why the age was set at nine. He said no one knew why, and he decided to move it to age 21.
It is unclear how many children will be able to take advantage of the services for which they are now eligible. "The child that is most medically fragile and technology dependent, the average life span is 12.5 years," said Schanwald. "So we're not talking about all of sudden tomorrow there are going to be 100 18-year-olds that are going to show up in the parking lot."
The state house and senate budget offices would not even try to put a dollar figure on the cost of the change. For parents it is nearly priceless to be able to get their children the help they need.
"It's like a second family to them," said A.J.'s mom Patty Schwirian. "It's a place where they can make friends, grow up together, make memories — this is their normal way of life."