Choosing the proper daycare center for children can be a challenge for many parents, but when a child has severe physical and medical needs that require specialized expert care, that challenge is even greater.
Mary Martin knows the problem first-hand. She’s the parent of a child who suffered from severe neurological damage and discovered that there were little or no services available nearby for families like hers. She also knows it from the caregiver side; she’s been a pediatric nurse for 24 years.
Knowing that there are other families with needs like hers, she dreamed about ways to help them. And with the opening last week of the Almost like Home specialized daycare center in Mt. Airy, her dream became a reality.
Almost like Home is housed in a completely-rebuilt carriage house at 129 East Gorgas Lane. It aims to be what its name implies, a small (capacity of ten children), nurturing center for children from birth to age eight with special medical needs. The ratio of staff to children is one nurse for every three children, one staff member for every two.
“The facility is going to focus on children with moderate to severe levels of impairment,” said Martin, “primarily those with neurological disorders and brain-injuries.” They will include children who have had tracheotomies and need ventilators to help them breathe. “All our nurses are trach- and vent- trained,” said Martin. “In a small group you can focus in more and give them special attention.”
The facility is the first in the state in a small, neighborhood setting, said Martin. Facilities for caring for children with severe impairments are typically large and institutional. It is Martin’s aim to make Almost Like Home anything but institutional.
“One of the things I feel is very vital for parents of medically-challenged kids is that the community knows they’re there,” added Martin. “You never see them at the store, they don’t go out.” Martin aims to see that the children get out into the community as much as possible, with frequent strolls up and down Germantown Avenue.
Among the treatments Almost Like Home will offer are apnea monitoring, diabetic management, feeding programs, language and occupational therapies and medication administration.
“If these children receive good consistent care, it reduces the stress and financial burden to parents,” she said.
“Most facilities are far away,” said Martin. “As a result these kids spend hours a day on the bus. One of our goals is to reduce traffic time away from medical care.”
Northwest resident Jachaira Ramos has a six-year-old daughter with medical conditions that include seizures, blindness, and an inability to walk. She chose Almost like Home for her child, she said, because they had “better care”
“The place we had before, there were a lot of kids and not a lot of nurses, I didn’t like it,” she said.
Martin said that the small size of Almost Like Home and the quality of staff will combat experiences like that. “In a small group you can focus in more, intervene medically and give them special attention,” she said.