Merritt House Adding Wing for Women

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.

The 90-day Intensive Residential Treatment facility in Virginia —  which Range Mental Health Center acquired in 2008 — often has a waiting list  for females because of an uneven ratio of men’s and women’s beds.  RMHC has been looking to build a wing specifically for women at  the house for some time, said Riley Holm, program manager.  That time has come.
The Susan Stubblebine women’s wing, slated for completion in  November, will add five female beds to the two-story, wood-frame building,  originally built in 1909 as the general office for the Virginia & Rainy  Lake Lumber Co.

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.