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United Way of Lancaster County


Clinic for Special Children opens at new site

The Clinic for Special Children, 20 Community Lane, Gordonville. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The Clinic for Special Children, 20 Community Lane, Gordonville. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)
The Clinic for Special Children, 20 Community Lane, Gordonville. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

It's been just two weeks since the Clinic for Special Children opened its doors at its new location, but it's already getting more horse-and-buggy traffic than before, Adam Heaps said.

Heaps is the executive director at the clinic, a nonprofit medical provider that treats complex genetic disorders. The majority of its patients belong to Amish and Old Order Mennonite communities.

Adam Heaps

This month, the clinic moved from 535 Bunker Hill Road in Strasburg Township to a brand-new building at 10 Community Way in Leacock Township, off Old Philadelphia Pike just east of Intercourse. Staff began seeing patients there last Monday, April 8.

While there are Plain Sect settlements in southern Lancaster County, there are far more on the county's east side. Hence the increased buggy traffic — and the need for the larger hitching rail and horse shed out front by the driveway.

In Leacock Township, "we're much more central to the communities that we largely serve," Heaps said. "… This is pretty much the epicenter."

35 years of growth

The Clinic for Special Children originated in the work of pediatrician Dr. Holmes Morton, who researched the genetic disorders glutaric aciduria and maple syrup urine disease in Plain Sect Communities during a fellowship at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Dr. Morton and his wife founded the clinic in 1989. The Bunker Hill Road site opened in 1991, erected with support from Amish and Mennonite neighbors and donations nationwide. (The Mortons left the organization in 2016.)

The clinic is the oldest member of the Plain Community Health Consortium, and the largest, with a staff of 33. It serves more than 1,700 active patients, of whom a little more than half live in Lancaster County. The remainder hail from more than 40 other states and 17 countries.

Using sliding "barn doors" for exam rooms instead of hinged doors improves accessibility and convenience. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

In recent years, the nonprofit simply outgrew its space, Heaps said.
"We had a need for parking, for exam room space, offices, lab space — pretty much for everything," Heaps said.

There were several other properties considered before the clinic settled on the Leacock Township site. It closed on the 10.2-acre site in September 2021, paying $1 million, according to county property records.

At 28,000 square feet, the new three-story building offers more than three times the space of the Strasburg location, which was about 8,500 square feet. There are now 12 exam rooms, up from five; and a spacious state-of-the-art medical laboratory.

Construction began last spring. As was the case in Strasburg, in-kind donations of materials and labor have been a huge help, Heaps said. Some examples: The countertops and cabinetry were all donated; much of the flooring was installed at cost; much of the steel was discounted and the installation provided free.

The building's style — vertical white paneling surmounting a stone-clad base — echoes traditional barn architecture. A solar array will be installed on the roof in a few months.

(Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

The new entrance is fully handicap-accessible and sheltered by a porte-cochere. A corridor off the lobby leads to a private lactation room and a telephone booth, available for the many clients who don't use cell phones.

The medical staff developed the two exam room designs, pediatric and adult. Insulation panels were used to mock up a room of the right size and shape, then the team experimented with folding chairs and cardboard "fixtures" until they arrived at the arrangement they wanted.

The clinic recognized several years ago that adults were becoming an important part of the patient base, Heaps said. Staff had been referring older patients to other providers, but it wasn't working out: They lacked the time and the in-depth expertise that the clinic is able to provide. So, a conscious decision was made to expand the scope of services and offer care throughout the life cycle. Today, about a fifth of all patients are over 18, Heaps said.

About half of each exam room is a sitting area. That's because the actual exam is usually a small part of the appointment, Heaps said: Practitioners spend a lot of time sitting down with families discussing the complexities of their cases and the requisite care.

Gallery: The Clinic for Special Children

Downstairs, the lab has space for equipment that in Strasburg had been tucked wherever it would fit, plus additional space to accommodate future needs. There's a sound-isolated audiology booth for ear testing and a new amenity for clinic staff: A break room. It opens onto a patio that looks out across a gorgeous farm landscape.

The second floor has office and conference room space surrounding a large timber-framed atrium with a kitchen at the far end. For now, it will serve as an event space and gathering space; it is also flex space for future expansion, and can be converted into office space if that becomes necessary down the road.

The timber framing lends the interior a traditional feel, as do the quilts that adorn many of the rooms and hallways. The intent overall was to meld tradition and modernity, Heaps said, in keeping with the clinic's mission of serving traditional communities with cutting-edge medial technology. The design reflects "the juxtaposition of these two worlds," he said.

Relocating in 2025: The Community Care Center

(Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Just outside the Clinic for Special Children's front door, another project is taking shape: A new building for the Community Care Center.

The nonprofit, also known as the Community Therapy Barn, is an Amish-run day care and therapeutic center for individuals with physical and mental disabilities. It currently operates at the former Leacock Elementary School in Intercourse.

"We're really crammed into our space now," administrator Miriam Oberholtzer said. More than 100 students are enrolled, of whom up to 65 or so might visit on a given day, and there's a waiting list.

The new building will be much bigger — two stories plus a basement, totaling 39,540 square feet — and will be much better for the organization's needs, she said.

Construction is under way for the Community Care Center's new building near the Center for Special Children in Leacock Township. (Photo: Tim Stuhldreher)

Completion is expected around January 2025. As with the Center for Special Children, in-kind contributions of labor and materials are helping to keep the cost down; excluding those donations, the budget is around $5.5 million, Oberholtzer said.

The two organizations serve some of the same clients. It thus made sense for them to locate adjacent to each other, Clinic for Special Children Executive Director Adam Heaps said, essentially creating a small-scale special-needs campus. He said they have agreed to share some of the development costs, such as building Community Lane, the driveway they will share.

'Things move quickly'

The capital campaign for the project is $13.3 million. That includes the land purchase, construction, furnishings and equipment, with in-kind donations counted at what the equivalent market cost would have been.

To date, $11.5 million has been secured, spokeswoman Kelly Cullen said. Besides private donations, a grant of $287,500 in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds came from Lancaster County, helping to pay for the building's advanced air circulation and filtration system.

The budget includes two capital funds: A $1 million "sustainability" endowment and a $500,000 "innovation fund." The income stream from the endowment will help offset the roughly $75,000 in higher annual operating costs expected at the new building. The $500,000, meanwhile, will provide a pool of flexible funding, allowing the clinic to act speedily as opportunities arise.

That could help with anything from equipment purchases to launching clinical trials based on new research, Heaps said.

"One of the things that we've certainly learned is that in medicine, and especially research, things move quickly," he said.

The clinic's annual budget is $6.2 million. About 60% of that is raised through auctions, individual donations and grants. It does not accept insurance — a practical decision, since so few of its patients have it. All services are offered free or at minimal cost, Heaps said.

Last fall, the clinic eliminated its $50 charge for office visits. It was dissuading families who needed care from visiting, Heaps said, so it is being waived for 12 months as a trial.

The new building provides the opportunity to grow, in whatever ways the needs of the community require, Heaps said. It will enhance the synergy between research and treatment, while maintaining its specialized focus.

The future of the old clinic building in Strasburg remains to be determined. The hope is that it can serve another nonprofit use, he said.