Funding keeps baby from leaving hospital

AKRON, Ohio (AP) - A baby is being kept from leaving the hospital nine months after his birth because his parents are waiting for special funding to care for him at home.

Instead, taxpayers are spending $83,000 per month to keep him in the hospital.

"We personally think the best place for him to be is at home," said Dr. Jeff Butler, a neonatologist at Children's Hospital Medical Center. "The only reason he's still in the hospital is because of an insurance situation."

Brady Eikleberry was born by emergency Caesarean section at Canton's Aultman Hospital in March.

He had two holes in his heart and a malformed esophagus and trachea. He was transferred to Children's, where specialists performed eight operations to repair his heart and rebuild his
esophagus and trachea.

Those surgeries saved his life, but came with a staggering price tag.

By the time he was 5 months old, Brady's medical costs had surpassed the $1 million lifetime cap on his mother's health-insurance plan and the $25,000 annual limit on his father's plan.

The state won't pay the estimated $12,600 to $16,800 monthly cost to provide his medical care in the home of his parents Rick and Nikki Eikleberry, of Harrison County, unless they wait for special funding -- which could take as long as 18 months.

As often as possible, Brady's parents drive an hour-and-a-half from their home near Steubenville to spend time with him.

Brady needs around-the-clock supervision indefinitely to make sure his airway doesn't get clogged with mucus. He also will need to use a ventilator until he's at least 2 years old to keep his trachea from collapsing.

The Eikleberrys are optimistic that Brady will get off his ventilator and have a normal life.

"I just want to get him home," his mother said. "It's been a long time coming."

But before they can take their son home, the Eikleberrys need to have him enrolled in a special Medicaid program known as the Ohio Home Care Waiver. He's 3,126th on the waiting list.

"Unfortunately, each of those people who are on that list have a story to tell," said Tom Hayes, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, which oversees Medicaid. "I can't in
good conscience suddenly say this case is much more extraordinary than all the other cases."

The Eikleberrys have started a letter-writing campaign asking doctors, nurses, friends and family members to send letters about Brady to the state and lawmakers.

Although Brady still requires medical supervision, he needs to be in the home environment so he can catch up developmentally, said Lea Rockey, a registered nurse at Children's.

Above his hospital crib, his nurses have posted a sign to support his plight: "Brady: Home or Bust."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)