When TheraCare Outpatient Services started five years ago, founder Melanie Stinnett was the only provider on staff. And she only conducted speech therapy.
Today, the company has 20 employees, and therapists provide speech, occupational, physical, music and behavioral therapies.
The speech-language pathologist says she started TheraCare in response to a perceived lack of pediatric therapy services.
“We provide several services that are either severely limited or not otherwise available for our region of the state,” she says, pointing to TheraCare’s assistive communication services that match nonverbal individuals with speaking devices. “They can have a voice.”
As TheraCare was growing a couple of years later, Stinnett started a nonprofit – also to meet an identified need. She saw an opportunity to increase support of parents and families of special-needs children.
“I was finding that they often felt isolated and had difficulties identifying services they might need when their child was newly diagnosed with a disability,” Stinnett says.
Include Ozarks was formed in 2016, and it now offers monthly parent workshops in collaboration with the Springfield-Greene County Library Center, as well as biannual sensory safe events, such as trick-or-treating and egg hunts for children with disabilities.
“Our newest goal is to launch a website, Ozarks Ability Map, which will include listings of providers and services that assist individuals with disabilities,” Stinnett says.
Prior to venturing out on her own, Stinnett worked for both Mercy and CoxHealth, Jennifer’s Home Health Care, and rehabilitation centers owned by Genesis HealthCare and Christian Health Care. She has a master’s degree in speech language pathology and a bachelor’s in communication sciences and disorders from Missouri State University.
Stinnett has used her experience and platform to advocate for children’s therapy services and insurance on the state level the past three years.
“Services for children with autism were mandated to be covered by insurance companies, but children with other developmental disabilities could be excluded from coverage,” she says. “I have traveled multiple times to Jefferson City to testify in both House and Senate hearings, participated in local radio shows and news interviews regarding this and other important topics, as well as contacted and had meetings with our local legislators.”
It’s paid off, as earlier this year, Gov. Mike Parson signed into law Senate Bill 514 that changes the insurance mandate to include individuals with development disabilities.
Stinnett was at the Capitol for the bill signing.
“Seeing the governor sign a bill that I contributed to and knowing that thousands across the state will be positively impacted is an experience that showed me people and parents can make a difference when they step up and speak out,” Stinnett says.
She now has her sights set on national matters. In January 2020, Stinnett begins a three-year term on the Medicaid Committee of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
A pair of area medical colleges that received state grant funding in the fall are now investing the funds toward technology and new programs with the intent of attracting more students to the nursing profession.