Highlands to close Center for Autism

PRESTONSBURG, Ky. — Citing financial difficulties in a struggling economy, Highlands Regional Medical Center announced to staff yesterday that it is closing its Center for Autism.

The center will not reopen after its traditional holiday break.

memoThe hospital made the announcement to employees through a memorandum distributed yesterday. In it, hospital president and CEO Harold “Bud” Warman explained the reasons for the decision.

“The work of the center has been largely supported by the generosity of individual and corporate donors to the Highlands Foundation,” Warman wrote. “As our local economy has declined, so have donations to the Highlands Foundation. Promised insurance coverage for treatment of autism has also not materialized since 2010, when the Kentucky General Assembly passed House Bill 159. The cost to operate the program was about $800,000 annually, and there simply are not enough resources to maintain the program on a going-forward basis.”

Warman said he was “saddened” by the decision, especially in light of the center’s accomplishments.

“Since July 2009, the Highlands Center for Autism has been a leading, full-time treatment center for the children diagnosed on the autism spectrum,” Warman wrote. “The center has touched the lives of hundreds of people. The center’s staff has achieved national recognition for its work and has been a leading advocate for the use of applied-behavior analysis to treat autism spectrum disorders. Over the years, the staff has been responsible for many miracles and for improving patients’ and families’ lives.”

Warman said the center’s staff will assist families seeking to transfer patients to other programs.

The announcement comes on the heels of an announcement in September of plans to merge Highlands with the Appalachian Regional Healthcare system.