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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Online Subscriptions Add to Center’s Bottom Line

A new study claims the most comprehensive tool for assessing children who may have autism is an online screening tool developed by the Center for Autism and Related Disorders. The for-profit center in Tarzana has sold subscriptions since 2011 for Skills: The Online Autism Solution, a website designed to help parents, behavioral health agencies and clinics, school districts and insurance companies. Eliana Ferreira, director of skills at the center, said only a doctor can diagnose autism. But once the diagnosis in ascertained, the Skills website can help outline a program of treatment. “You can assess where the child is functioning against the peer group, and you’ll see skill deficiencies and skill strengths,” she said. The website provides a series of yes-or-no questions that can be answered by a doctor, professional behavior therapist, teacher or parent. The questions focus on skills such as speech abilities, fine motor coordination and social interaction. Afterward, the site provides a treatment regimen to develop the skills that need improvement. Every month, the caregiver can log onto the site and respond to follow-up questions on the child’s progress, resulting in adjustments to the treatment program. Ferreira said the center sells the site to four types of buyers: parents, behavioral health agencies and clinics, school districts and insurance companies. Parents pay a subscription of $75 a month for one child and an additional $25 for a second child. Volume discounts for professionals could drop the price as low as $45 a month for agencies serving 10 children. Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan, a child psychiatrist with a private practice in Westwood, said online tools can offer limited help. “The only challenge with things online is you can’t replace a doctor’s clinical training,” she said. “The downside is sometimes you can self-diagnose or over diagnose. Some of the stuff on the Internet may not be validated, so who knows whether the treatment is appropriate?” The study, published in the academic journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, compared the evaluation by a health professional directly observing a child and parent responses on the Skills website. It found “moderate to very high levels of agreement” in the results. “That’s a big deal because direct observation is time-consuming and expensive,” said Ferreira at the center. “A professional would have to see the child for several days in various social settings to cover all human functions and have a comprehensive assessment.” Debt Rating Downgrade Moody’s Investors Service has downgraded the debt of Antelope Valley Healthcare District to “junk” status, but executives hope for a quick turnaround. The district, which owns and operates Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, received a Ba2 rating, which is classified as a high-yield or “junk bond” status. The district previously had a Baa3 rating, the lowest level for investment-grade bonds. Moody’s conducted a review of the district’s finances last summer and decided to maintain its credit rating at the time in anticipation of improvements, including the hiring of a chief executive. In August, the district had a total of $134 million in outstanding debt stemming from past construction projects. In November, the hospital hired Dennis Knox as chief executive to replace long-time leader Ed Mirzabegian, who resigned in May to take another job. Knox said in a statement that hospital management is holding all departments accountable for eliminating expenses while improving patient care. It’s also reviewing supply costs, evaluating service contracts and installing a new payroll system. Paul Brydon, chief financial officer, said the downgrade wouldn’t affect the day-to-day operations of the hospital, and he believes new management can turn the corner. “We don’t know when Moody’s will come back to us, so I wouldn’t want to speculate,” he said. “But we aren’t the only hospital with a less than investment-grade rating in California.” The area economy has affected the hospital, which last year reported spending nearly $76 million for charity care, bad debt and unpaid costs of public programs, a 10 percent increase. The Antelope Valley has some of the highest unemployment in L.A. County, with Lancaster in December registering a 12.5 percent rate. Bond ratings do not change the interest rates for the hospital’s approximate $134 million in outstanding bond debt, but it would make its future bond issues more costly. Amgen Job Cuts Amgen Inc. plans to lay off 252 people, according to filings with the state Employee Development Department. The Thousand Oaks drug maker, which employs more than 18,000 people worldwide and about 6,000 at its headquarters, did not specify where the cuts would take place. However, during the last two years the company has emphasized international expansion and acquisitions as its growth strategy. “The impacts are in some U.S. sales force, operations and other corporate functions,” Amgen spokeswoman Kristen Davis said in an email, referring to the layoffs. “Like all companies, Amgen adjusts staffing levels to meet the needs of the business. Each of the individuals notified was offered comprehensive severance benefits that provide cash, health insurance and career transition services.” Staff Writer Joel Russell can be reached at (818) 316-3124 or jrussell@sfvbj.com.

Joel Russel
Joel Russel
Joel Russell joined the Los Angeles Business Journal in 2006 as a reporter. He transferred to sister publication San Fernando Valley Business Journal in 2012 as managing editor. Since he assumed the position of editor in 2015, the Business Journal has been recognized four times as the best small-circulation tabloid business publication in the country by the Alliance of Area Business Publishers. Previously, he worked as senior editor at Hispanic Business magazine and editor of Business Mexico.

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