Freeman News

Donation Builds Hope for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

October 22, 2015

Staff members from Freeman Health System and Ozark Center gathered at the construction site at 2808 S. Picher in Joplin to accept a large gift from the Quapaw Tribe and Downstream Casino Resort.

JOPLIN, Mo. – As the opening of the new Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism draws closer, staff members from Freeman Health System and Ozark Center gathered at the construction site at 2808 S. Picher in Joplin to accept a large gift from the Quapaw Tribe and Downstream Casino Resort. John Berrey, Quapaw Tribe Chairman, presented Paula F. Baker, Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer, with a check for $60,000, the first installment of a five-year, $300,000 pledge. 

“We thank the Quapaw Tribe and Downstream Casino Resort for their spirit, their generosity and their support for Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism,” said Baker. “This gift will change the lives of countless children on the autism spectrum and bring hope to families throughout our region.”

While the May 2011 tornado destroyed the building that housed Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism, then known as Ozark Center for Autism, it did not stop the center’s work with children on the autism spectrum. After the tornado, staff members put aside their own losses and focused, instead, on ensuring that children would continue receiving essential autism services. Through sheer determination, the center’s team of behavioral health professionals found a way to resume treatment for their students within one week of the storm. Operating out of temporary facilities for the past four and a half years, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism has continued to grow, adding daily living and prevocational skills classes to the curriculum and establishing a program that connects young adults with autism to employment opportunities. 

The new facility, slated to open in November, features customizable lighting to accommodate each learner. Moveable walls allow staff to teach students in one-on-one settings and slowly transition them into small groups. Two playgrounds featuring specialized play equipment are also at the new location.
The center’s multipurpose room, which doubles as a safe room, will be named Quapaw Tribe/Downstream Casino Resort Multipurpose Room in recognition of the gift. A plaque will be hung outside the multipurpose room in the Quapaw language. It will say “i-ka-zo-zo ka-xe o-ti,” meaning school or school house.

Developed in consultation with the Cleveland Clinic Autism Consulting Group, Bill & Virginia Leffen Center for Autism provides Applied Behavior Analysis, an intensive therapy proven to unlock parts of the brain that control function such as language, emotion, social skills and interest. Since opening in 2007, more than 355 children and young adults have received treatment through the center. In 2010, a Special Education Center was created, expanding therapy services to students from kindergarten through 12th grade. In 2011, the center established the Four State’s first autism diagnostic team, which features the resources of an entire team of diagnostic professionals.

About Ozark Center – Celebrating 50 Years 
An integral component of Freeman Health System based in Joplin, Mo., Ozark Center provides comprehensive behavioral health services to children, adults and families in an area that includes more than 450,000 residents from Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Ozark Center continually looks for innovative ways to address the mental health needs of the community and promote awareness of mental illness in an effort to eliminate the discrimination associated with it. For more information, visit or call 417.347.7600.

Freeman Health System – Celebrating 90 Years of Service
Locally owned, not-for-profit and nationally recognized, Freeman Health System includes Freeman Hospital West, Freeman Hospital East, Freeman Neosho Hospital and Ozark Center – the area’s largest provider of behavioral health services – as well as two urgent care clinics, dozens of physician clinics and a variety of specialty services. In 2014, Freeman earned 90 individual awards for medical excellence and safety from CareChex®, a quality rating system that helps consumers evaluate healthcare providers. U.S. News & World Report ranked Freeman #1 Hospital in Southwest Missouri in 2014-15, and The Leapfrog Group gave Freeman the highest grade possible in the Fall 2014 Hospital Safety Score. With more than 300 physicians on staff representing more than 60 specialties, Freeman provides cancer care, heart and vascular care, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopaedics, children’s services and women’s services. Additionally, Freeman is the only Children’s Miracle Network Hospital in a 70-mile radius. For more information, visit or or follow Freeman President and Chief Executive Officer Paula Baker at #FreemanTurns90