Riverside closes children’s day treatment center

From the Roseburg News Register, December 23 2008

Winston, Oregon – After more than 20 years of providing mental health services to Douglas County children, the Riverside Center will halt its day treatment program next month.

As of Jan. 30, the center will offer only a few small therapeutic outpatient groups, sending 16 students in treatment back into public schools and leaving 10 employees without jobs, said Dan Strasser, executive director of the Riverside Center. Strasser said he will continue to look for other types of mental health services the center could offer.

Outpatient therapy team Heidi Luckman, from left, Sarah Becker, Dan Strasser and Kathryn Gailey work to serve children at the Riverside Center in Winston.

Outpatient therapy team Heidi Luckman, from left, Sarah Becker, Dan Strasser and Kathryn Gailey work to serve children at the Riverside Center in Winston.

“It’s kind of sad for me that this county’s decided — not due to lack of funds but their therapeutic philosophy — they’re going to allot the money elsewhere,” said Strasser, who has been director of the center for nearly two years.

For more than two decades, children and adolescents who have been diagnosed with serious mental health issues have attended the center daily — in place of attending a public school — to receive treatment, he said.

The day treatment program needs 24 students enrolled to keep it financially viable; currently, only 16 attend the center. Nine of the students are Oregon Health Plan recipients; they have to be authorized for the program by Douglas County Mental Health, Strasser said.

Despite the lower enrollment numbers, Strasser said he believes there is still a need for the treatment. In fact, he suspects the need has increased because of growing unemployment and poverty rates.

Statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that 21 percent of children have a diagnosable mental illness, and 5 percent of those children have extreme functional impairment. By applying those percentages to Douglas County, Strasser estimates that 500 children have extreme functional impairment and more than 200 of them should be receiving some type of high-level services.

But lately, Strasser said the county has been authorizing fewer students for the program, which means denying families who want to use the treatment center. Strasser said he believes the funding is available but the county has decided to use the money for other programs.

Peggy Kennerly, Douglas County Health Department administrator, said the method of providing mental health treatment for children has shifted, which has resulted in the money being distributed to a wider range of services.

In 2005, 60 percent of mental health funding was being used to treat 6 percent of children needing care, Kennerly said. Most of that funding was going to day and residential treatment centers for children who had reached near-crisis levels, Kennerly said.

A state initiative implemented a couple of years ago, though, required health departments to create a continuum of care that would reach kids at levels across the spectrum, she said. More and more services are being created and funded at the lower levels of the spectrum in order to reach and treat kids before they reach crisis levels, Kennerly said.

As a result, Kennerly said fewer kids need the services offered at day treatment centers and residential care facilities. Now those students needing higher levels of care may have to look outside of the county.

Kennerly said Health Department employees will work with families with children at Riverside Center to create transition plans, but kids who need day treatment will have to find care in Eugene, Grants Pass or other areas in the state. But Kennerly insists that the closure of the center does not reflect the quality of services that have been provided by Riverside.

“We really appreciate what Riverside has provided for mental health services,” she said. “And we’re sad to see them not provide day services.”

EXTRA – Riverside Center in Winston quietly changing lives, April 11 2008, KPIC.com
EXTRA – Mental health care for kids, Roseburg News-Register, September 2 2008