KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Milagros Ortiz says she lost six months of valuable time, six months that could have helped her son King, who is diagnosed autistic, receive the therapy he needs to communicate with the world.
“That’s basically holding him back from progressing from his struggles with tantrums, to control his emotions,” Ortiz said. “He’s nonverbal. He can’t control how he feels. He gets upset.”
Ortiz says she turned to Wonder Minds ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) Therapy Center in Kissimmee because it was a brand new center opening just minutes away from her home.
“I called before I went there and said ‘Hey, are you taking any kids’,” Ortiz said. “Because I’ve been trying to find one and it’s like a year waiting list! And they said ‘Yes, you can come in. We’re taking the first 15 kids and your No. 13’.”
Ortiz said she thought this place would be an answer to her prayers. Every other center had a year-long waiting list, Ortiz said.
Turns out, it was too good to be true.
Ortiz says even though she gave the workers at the Wonder Minds Therapy Center East Vine Street location all her son’s medical information and as her personal information, they never called to schedule an appointment.
Ortiz said she first approached the center in June and workers told her they would call her in two weeks for her and King to attend the grand opening.
“They didn’t have a grand opening,” Ortiz said. “They never called me.”
Ortiz says weeks turned into months, as she waited for King to have his first appointment. She says no one would return her calls, and no one was ever at the building when she would show up to ask questions.
“I was really upset,” Ortiz said. “I was so upset I started crying.”
That’s when Ortiz called News 6.
The Wonder Minds Therapy Center at 1609 E. Vine Street in Kissimmee still has signs claiming to be open for business.
Furniture for both children and adults could be seen through the center’s windows and a utility bill stuck in the mail slot.
In November, a website for Wonder Minds, including job listings for licensed behavior analysts were still active.
Google reviews show at least one other Central Florida woman who left Wonder Minds Therapy Center Inc. a 1-star review stating “I can never get anyone on the phone. I’ve been trying to 2 weeks.” Two other reviewers also left 1-star reviews.
The president of Wonder Minds confirmed through a text message to News 6 that the business had shut down.
“The Kissimmee location is permanently closed, the company is out of business," read a text from the president’s phone number on record.
The president said Medicaid did not approve the center’s license and it had to close. According to the president, the center was meant to help the people in Kissimmee.
“I don’t know how they did that to me and my son,” Ortiz said. “If I was to talk to them I’d be like, ‘How could you do that?’”
Ortiz said no one from Wonder Minds ever called to tell her that the business closed and instead strung her along for months.
“I wasted like five, six months waiting on them when I could have put him somewhere else that was ready and willing to take him,” Ortiz said.
Shortly after News 6 confirmed the center had shut down, Ortiz said she received a text from the president’s cell phone number, apologizing for the inconvenience, and finally admitting they had shut down.
State records show the very next day, the president of Wonder Minds notified the state, to dissolve the company entirely.
However, Ortiz said that’s not enough.
She says she’s worried about all the private and personal information they collected about her and her son and has even contacted her insurance company to be on the lookout for fraud.
Ortiz said she was finally found an accredited behavior center who was able to get her son in.
She says she is thrilled with the results but wanted to warn parents about her experience so they could prevent it from happening to them.
What can parents do to find an accredited Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy center?
Experts say there is a growing demand for Applied Behavior Analysis therapy centers and there are ways to find accredited organizations.
Lourdes Quintana is the director of the Early Steps program at the Howard Phillips Center. The center is affiliated with Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and helps children under the age of 3 who are experiencing developmental delays. They also help children who have experienced extreme trauma in their lives. She says 40% of the children they see have autism. The Early Steps program can help families find accredited ABA therapy centers in the area.
"Ten years ago it was really difficult for you to find a provider," Quintana said.
Quintana said as the demand for ABA therapy and therapy centers has increased so has the number of centers.
She says that is why it is important for families to check if the therapists and the therapy centers they pick are properly certified.
“You want to make sure all their paperwork is up to date. Their enrollment with Medicaid or your own insurance is up to date and their supervision requirements have been met,” Quintana said.
Quintana said one of the best places families can turn to for help is the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities located at the University of Central Florida.
She also recommends using a behavior center that is well established in your area.
“The key is to continue to research, and ask for results,” Quintana said.
3 tips to find the right behavior therapy center
- Ask the center if their group Medicare or Medicaid number is in place, and ask for proof.
- Ask for referrals or reviews from other parents.
- Ask for a list of the therapists working for the center and their experience.
A good center should have no problem providing you with this information, experts say.
Neither the Florida Department of Health or the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation regulates or oversees these kinds of centers, however, Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, or AHCA, is the agency responsible for the provision of behavior analysis services through Florida’s Medicaid program.
According to Patrick Manderfield, the deputy communications director for AHCA, those who need help finding or accessing services or eligible providers can contact Florida Medicaid at 1-877-254-1055 for assistance.
Instances of fraud can also be reported to the Attorney General’s office.
Manderfield said to obtain approval for behavior analysis services in the Florida Medicaid program, providers must submit authorization requests to eQHealth Solutions, the Agency’s contracted Quality Improvement Organization for this service. eQ Health Solutions receives authorization requests and supporting documentation to review for medically necessary behavior analysis services for children ages 0-20 years. He confirms behavior analysts are certified by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.