News Article Details

Horizons opens new home for youth in crisis

The Hutchinson News - 6/2/2019

June 02-- Jun. 2--The airy ranch-style home on Hutchinson's north side, with its vast backyard and three-car garage housing ping-pong and air hockey tables, has been dubbed the Sunrise House.

Furnished with mostly donated furniture and staffed by paid volunteers, the rented three-bedroom house has become a temporary haven for local youth suffering a mental health crisis.

Open since late February, and licensed by the state as an attendant care house, the home is enabling professionals to treat and stabilize children locally so they can return home or go back to school sooner, rather than being shipped hours away to a state treatment center in Hays.

The operation is just one of three new programs launched by professionals at Hutchinson'sHorizons Mental Health Center in the last year to provide a continuum of mental health care for children in the community.

The others include a program started last school year within three Hutchinson public schools -- with plans to expand it next year into more schools -- providing in-school mental health counselors, and an all-new therapeutic learning center for preschool-age children who are psychologically incapable of attending school.

Brenda Brown, chief operating officer and clinical director for Horizons, was a catalyst behind the Sunrise House, having been involved with a similar facility when she worked in Cowley County before coming to Hutchinson.

Depending on ages and gender, since one bedroom is shared, up to four children can be placed in the house at a time, and each child can stay up to 72 hours.

Each has an individual trained volunteer staff member who works with and keeps an eye on them.

Welcoming place

It took them a long time to find a property they felt would best meet their needs, Brown said. The rented 1,300-square-foot home has an open floor plan for the living, dining and kitchen areas, with bedrooms toward the back and a separate area for offices that can be kept locked.

"It's open and welcoming -- a home away from home," Brown said.

The staff prepares all meals in the home, and they encourage the children to help them. The youth also do their own laundry with the assistance of staff.

"We try to keep a structured schedule, but it's very homelike, like having a sleepover," she said. "In between all that, we're working on having psychological interventions."

All common areas have surveillance cameras, "for the protection of children and staff," Brown said.

There is a large basement for a storm shelter, but it's also kept locked except in an emergency.

Since March, 14 children between the ages of 6 and 17 have been placed in the home, Brown said, including two who've been there twice, saving them from the "hugely expensive, both emotionally and financially, trip to Hays."

"It's very stressful for children to be sent to a hospital," Brown said. "There's attachment injury there. When we can provide a home environment, it's much less stressful."

Range of care

The staff, ranging from a clinical psychologist to attendant care volunteers, work with the children and their families, to stabilize the child and their home or school situation, said Michael Garrett, Horizon's CEO.

"All of our services are available to that person," Garrett said. "They may receive services from a master level clinician; it may be from bachelor-level staff, case management as well as attendant care. They're able to receive our full complement of services while there."

"Our intent is to try to prevent the child from needing a higher level of care, whether that be an inpatient unit or a psychiatric treatment center," he said.

Horizon's staff working with the family or an outside agency can recommend the child go into the home.

"It could come from law enforcement, or a child welfare contractor," Garrett said. "There are multiple ways a child could be referred to us."

They would only go to the home, however, if in or near crisis, yet are not considered a threat to themselves or others of immediate harm.

"It provides them a time and place to calm down," Brown said, during which they may also receive clinical services. "It provides a child in severe emotional distress one-on-one care to help them when they're away from home."

Horizons has had a separate respite program for a couple of years that can give members of struggling families a brief break from each other.

While the Sunrise House is staffed 24-hours a day, staff don't sleep there. Instead, they work shifts, so someone is always available, Garrett said.

"It's a fee-for-service we provide," he said, explaining how Horizons funds the operation. "Third-party payers cover the costs, based on what services we provide. Some pay for a whole array of services, while some just certain services."

Under their license, Brown noted, they can request an exception to stay longer than the 72 hours, "but our purpose is for that quick intervention. Our purpose is not to hang onto them for a while. If they need that kind of care, we need to send them somewhere else."

"The whole purpose of this is to keep children in our community, to keep them in a more normal life during the distress they're dealing with," Brown said. "It's about providing safety for the child, so the trauma is not as impactful."

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(c)2019 The Hutchinson News (Hutchinson, Kan.)

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