EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — It only took Teresa Albani about 15 minutes to drive her autistic son, Peter, from their Mays Landing home on Saturday to the ribbon cutting for the new Children’s Specialized Hospital pediatric outpatient center here on the Black Horse Pike.
And that was the point. Albani has been driving Peter, 13, to Toms River, and sometimes as far away as New York City, for care. A lot of other families from the area with special needs children were doing the same thing.
That convinced the nonprofit Children’s Specialized Hospital, which already runs nine pediatric facilities in the state, to open up its first one this far south, mostly to serve Atlantic County, but a lot of inquiries have also been coming in from Cape May County residents.
“This is our farthest south. We grow with the demand for services. That’s how we build our sites. If there are more children in need, we expand,” said Children’s Chief Operating Officer Amy Mansue.
Albani really appreciates it. She started taking Peter to New York City at the age of 3 and made the commute for six years before Children’s Specialized Hospital, which started in the 1890s in Mountainside, Union County, opened a facility in Toms River. That was still about 90 minutes away for Albani.
“When you have kids with special needs and you’re doing an hour and a half driving, and in summertime the Garden State Parkway is a killer, then you’re exhausted before therapy even starts,” Albani said.
Peter’s Toms River doctor, Dr. Yvette Janvier, even has hours at the new facility here in the Risely Commons Shopping Center, so there is no change in doctors.
The Albani family was among several hundred people to attend Saturday’s ribbon cutting and carnival. Special needs children played carnival games, enjoyed ice cream, had their faces painted and did other fun things while their parents toured the new 5,000-square-foot facility that will be run by a staff of 15. The carnival was funded by Kohl’s Cares, a department store chain that has donated $1.5 million to the cause since 1999.
“Kohl’s Cares funds carnivals, outreach, wheelchair sports and other things,” said Rebecca Mazzarella, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
Children’s Specialized Hospital served more than 19,000 children with special needs last year, providing services for children suffering brain and spinal cord injuries, autism, premature birth issues, developmental problems and other life-changing illnesses.
Albani said they also help children with special needs learn social skills.
“It’s just what children need to reach their full potential,” she said.
Peter Albani said it would be easier for his mother and, he astutely noted, “it’s probably less gas, too,” to see his doctor at a much closer location.
Patti Foley, the vice president of outpatient services, took parents and patients on tours of the new facility, including a large “therapy gym” full of new equipment.
“Therapy involves having fun with the kids and trying to reach their goals,” Foley said.
The hospital has in-patient rehabilitation in New Brunswick, but this facility will be for outpatient care.
Mansue said families asked for the facility, but so did the nearby AtlantiCare.
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