Like other in-demand service providers during COVID-19, NeurAbilities Healthcare is hiring hand over fist. … But the similarities stop there.
Kathleen Stengel, CEO of the Voorhees-based organization, said it’s difficult to compare NeurAbilities to others, even those that are also providing health care services for individuals with autism and other neurological conditions.
“There’s simply no one like us,” she said. “And we’re growing exponentially because of that.”
Quite literally, the organization is planning on hiring by the hundreds while it spends millions of dollars on expanding its footprint by opening about a dozen centers across central and southern New Jersey and Pennsylvania over the course of several years.
Between Cherry Hill and Freehold, just two of the new bases the organization is adding in the Garden State this year, it’s hiring at least 50 more qualified staff. And it’s adding at least three more New Jersey locations next year, and several in Pennsylvania, as well — with more help wanted signs to come in each location.
What’s common to each of these places, or just about anywhere in the United States, is that autism rates have been skyrocketing. Today, autism affects about one in 54 children in the country, according to figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Jersey, where about one in 32 children is identified with the condition, is especially familiar with the autism diagnosis.
“So, the need is there,” Stengel said. “We believe to this day that we’re the ones doing it right and servicing this population effectively.”
Respected New Jersey neurologist Dr. Mark Mintz started the organization, formerly known as CNNH NeuroHealth, back in 2005. Its approach from the beginning has been to try and eliminate a major cost-driver in the care of children with neurological disorders: fragmentation.
Children with different learning needs had to go to primary care physicians, then school psychologists, then speech and language therapists — and take many more detours besides, Stengel said.
“What (Dr. Mintz) found at the time was, individuals with neurodiverse needs did not get coordinated and collaborative care,” she said. “And, yet, these individuals need continuity of care above all else.”
NeurAbilities brings various health care professionals together to offer a continuum of care to individuals — “quarterbacking,” as Stengel called it, the journey of a child with special needs. With the waitlist for the organization’s services growing by the day, NeurAbilities is seeing a need to grow, grow and grow some more.
The organization, which had been offering in-home therapies and family training, has at the same time had to learn to do more work virtually.
One perhaps overlooked aspect of the pandemic’s lockdown is how negatively it has affected youth with autism. Besides the majority of families reporting disruptions in services and therapies, those families are reporting that, very often, the disruptions have harmed their child’s mental and emotional health, according to the Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge.
Especially in light of the fact that its client base is on such an upswing, NeurAbilities has tried to avoid those disruptions to whatever extent is possible.
“While the volume of therapy we provided decreased for a period of time, we were able to push forward in a way that individuals are not losing skills,” Stengel said. “Because one step backwards for them takes an exponentially longer time to bring that skillset back up.”
COVID-19 hasn’t slowed the organization’s hiring spree. Nonetheless, Stengel said it’s hard for the organization’s new professionals not to directly see the impact they’re having, which is often measured in the amount of smiling faces in a room.
“But, like a lot of organizations, assuring that our employees are safe and happy is the most important thing for us,” Stengel said. “So, we’re often working from home, but maintaining the motivation to serve our patient population under creative and safe methods.”