This October, children with disabilities in the U.S. will have a new, free resource as a Mexico-based nonprofit organization will open a new health care facility in northeast San Antonio.

Parents have already begun to call in, said Managing Director Ricardo Guzman Hefferan, wondering when they can enroll their child into the renowned facility.

Update on Sept. 17, 2014: TeletónUSA will accept applications for enrollment starting on Wednesday, Oct 1. Interested families are encouraged to call 1-844-206-4512??. Capacity is limited to 600 children annually.

Teletón has 20 health care facilities for children with neuromusculoskeletal disabilities in Mexico. The TeletónUSA branch will open its first location in the U.S. and will assist with a number of conditions, including mild, moderate, and severe cerebral palsy and brain injury, neuromuscular diseases, spinal cord injuries, skeletal disorders, congenital and genetic diseases, and early stimulation for premature babies coming from high-risk pregnancies.

For all that care, Teletón uses a “pay-what-you-can” model, which means its services are free for a family that needs it.

Teletón started in 1997 in Mexico as a fundraiser for Centers of Children’s Rehabilitation-Teletón, better known by the Spanish acronym CRIT. Their 26-hour broadcasts packed with celebrities became popular in Mexico, and in the 17 years Teletón has gone from broadcasting on 70 networks to 500.

TeletónUSA Public Relations Manager Ellie Leeper said the fundraisers are “bigger productions than the Oscars” in the audience they draw, as well as the famous guests who contribute.

“You have celebrity after celebrity after celebrity, and then the kids come on and tell their stories,” Leeper said. “It’s non-stop.”

Public Relations Manager Ellie Leeper with Managing Director Ricardo Guzman Hefferan. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Public Relations Manager Ellie Leeper with Managing Director Ricardo Guzman Hefferan. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

When American donors began to give money during those fundraisers, Teletón took notice, and started TeletónUSA. In their first two years, they raised $32 million for the establishment of the first U.S.-based CRIT.

It’s no surprise that the new, colorful, 45,000-square-foot CRIT sits on a hill adjacent to Morgan’s Wonderland and Monarch Academy, offering children with disabilities recreation and education respectively. Gordon Hartman, founder of the neighboring facilities, lent a major hand to Teletón in acquiring the property, and the CRIT will offer a number of collaborative volunteer opportunities to Monarch students.

While nonprofit models of care have become much more common in Mexico’s health care system, the health care system in the U.S. showed a need for low-cost centers. San Antonio’s CRIT will use a “pay-what-you-can” model for what averages $15,000 per patient, in an attempt to ensure their doors can be as open as possible.

The new CRIT will accept 700 patients for 80 to 100 services yearly, a far higher number than the services insurance companies typically provide.

“We know the insurance companies will pay for 10 rehab services in one year, maybe more, so we’re doing 10 times that, without willing that the patient has insurance,” said Hefferan during a recent tour of the construction site. “The most important parts of healthcare are the patient and the family, not the insurance company and the money.”

Ricardo Guzman Hefferan (left) and Ellie Leeper (far right) tour Adrian Ramirez around the CRIT, Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Ricardo Guzman Hefferan (left) and Ellie Leeper (far right) tour Adrian Ramirez around the new CRIT. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Teletón’s philosophy doesn’t simply begin and end with medical care for patients; they intend to be there for entire families, with lounge areas, classrooms, a cafeteria, a small chapel, and counseling for loved ones whose children are in physical therapy sessions.

“The center will help the child, parents, brothers, sisters, and, if possible, grandparents,” Guzman said. “All of them will get involved in order to help them understand what their child has.” All of those services will be included with the cost of a child’s therapy.

Centers like CRIT are new to the U.S., and rather than services being scattered in different places that can be far away, patients can find a “one-stop shop” for the majority of their care. Though the facility is Texas-based, 50 percent of enrollment will be made available to families outside of Texas.

Colorful hallways and rooms will lead families through all CRITs, each with a different theme, from sports to the Riverwalk to the Southwest. Highlights of San Antonio’s CRIT include a sensory stimulation room, a dark room that will use light and sound to help with senses; a kitchen for patients to develop new ways to perform everyday tasks, and a pool for parents to engage with their children in muscular stimulation.

In the Alamo-themed lobby at CRIT, a construction worker makes artwork for an adjacent sports-themed hallway. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
In the Alamo-themed lobby at CRIT, a construction worker makes artwork for an adjacent sports-themed hallway. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“Disability doesn’t mean you can’t do things, it just means you just do them in a different way,” Leeper said. From braille business cards to multi-textured surfaces for walking, she said the center hopes to promote a culture of understanding.

Teletón has started to reach out to cultural organizations, such as the Chamber Orchestra of San Antonio, which can perform concerts in the center’s event space, and other local health care systems for patient referrals for procedures and surgeries.

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“With all the initiatives to be inclusive and work together, our organization is poised to connect a lot of dots to between organizations,” Leeper said. She said rather than competing, she hopes for Teletón to help and compliment other children medical services in town.

The San Antonio CRIT will open with an event in October, and will be a focal point of Teletón’s December fundraising broadcast. Online registration will begin in the coming month; follow TeletónUSA’s Facebook page for updates.

Featured/top photo: The construction site for CRIT. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

*This article was originally published on July 27, 2014.

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Adrian Ramirez

Editor and writer Adrian Omar Ramirez is a recent graduate of Texas State University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, where he was a news reporter at the University Star. A native to Abilene,...