Mesabi Daily News, by Angie Riebe
VIRGINIA, Minnesota. – Merritt House has been building up the lives of individuals with severe and persistent mental illnesses and chemical dependency issues for a number of years.
A new construction project will help the program to continue to do just that, especially for women.
Merritt House — which is licensed through the Minnesota Department of Human Services and operated and managed by RMHC — will, however, remain a 16-bed facility, Holm said. The new wing will simply “increase potential” for more female clients, he said.
Currently — with women housed on the first floor and men on the second — there is availability for 11 male clients, but only five female clients. The house also has two lounge areas, a kitchen, laundry, and a “mock apartment kitchen,” where residents can practice cooking skills.
The addition “will increase access to females, who have been underserved in our area,” Holm said. “Throughout the year there is a female waiting list. It will not only improve access, but limit the potential of abuse and neglect” for women in need of services.
The $361,000 project will offer gender segregation, as well as privacy and safety, for recipients who feel that is in their best interest to overcome symptoms, Holm added.
Merritt House provides intensive residential treatment to individuals struggling with mental illness and chemical dependency for up to 90 days to prepare them for independent, community-based living. Such programs help people, who need a high level of care, “integrate themselves into the community” via “evidence-based” therapy techniques, he said.
Programming consists of both group and individual therapy sessions and therapeutic recreational activities. For instance, there are mood and anxiety, life skills, social skills, cooking and nutrition, exercise and goal-setting groups, along with illness management, depression and chemical dependency groups. There are also group social activities and outings.
Residents are evaluated on a three-phase “safety” system, and clients either increase or decrease their phase status based on behavior, safety issues and program participation. “They have a limited amount of time in the community and must earn their freedom,” Holm said.
For instance, at phase one, a resident must be accompanied by a staff member to leave the house. At phase three, he or she may go alone. A first-phase resident may leave for two hours at a time; phase three allows an eight-hour absence from the facility.
The goal is to “build a level of independence,” Holm said. Individuals who receive intensive residential services often demonstrate the ability to function at a higher level in the community and take pride in their accomplishments, he said.
Intensive residential treatment, which costs about $200 per person per day, also supersedes the high cost of hospitalization, which is conservatively $1,500 per day.
The increased access to services for females in Merritt House’s residential treatment program will result in a significant health care savings to our community, according to RMHC.
The women’s wing, which will celebrate a groundbreaking in mid-May, will be named after a longtime RMHC board member, Susan Stubblebine, who died on March 1, 2011.
Stubblebine served on the board of directors for 16 years and “spent her life working with children and advocating for children,” said Sandy Wallin, RMHC director of development. She served as a public health nurse and helped coordinate a variety of diagnostic and treatment clinics for youngsters with heart, facial and behavioral problems.
As a legacy, Stubblebine gifted the sale of her Eveleth home to RMHC, which decided to use the proceeds for the Merritt House project, Wallin said. “We are honored that she would leave her home to benefit others.”
In addition to her significant contribution, RMHC received an $100,000 St. Louis County Community Development Block Grant, as well as a $150,000 grant from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.
The Soroptimist Club and other local donors have been generous also, including someone who made a $2,500 anonymous donation, Wallin said.
“We’re getting close, but we still need some more donors,” Holm said.