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St. Louis facility fills need for young adult treatment

March 25, 2015
by Julia Brown, Associate Editor
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Preferred Family Healthcare’s (PFH) newest substance abuse and behavioral health facility opened its doors last September in Dutchtown West, a neighborhood of South St. Louis that’s reverberating with revitalization.

Residing in a gated area just five minutes from downtown, the ADVANCE@PFH program offers a full continuum of care for young adults ages 18 to 26.

“From a clinical standpoint, our program was basically built because nowhere in Missouri can an 18 year-old go and have tailored, specific treatment for his or her age group,” says Jim Wallis, vice president of community development and marketing, Preferred Family Healthcare.

According to Wallis, there are several residential programs in Missouri for adolescents but not many for young adults. In the state, turning 17 and nine months means transitioning into adult treatment.

“[They’re] in there with 20, 30, 40, 50 year olds that may be two times through the department of corrections and have a lot of different issues,” he says. “Not only is it uncomfortable for that young adult—their treatment is typically not successful and they’ll leave treatment early—but it’s uncomfortable for those 40 and 50 year olds that really don’t want to deal with the teenager.”

Wallis says that although age population targeting was the main goal of building the program and facility, PFH also wanted to create a quality program that would align with the changing healthcare landscape and also be attractive to diverse funding streams. Additionally, they wanted to ensure that the facility would be attractive to their young adult clients.  

“A lot of thought was put into building a quality facility so that the population isn’t going to run the other way when pulling into the parking lot,” he says. “Meeting today’s business and clinical needs was something that we really concentrated on.”

The brand new residential facility is 23,000 square feet, has 16 beds (two additional for overflow purposes) and took 14 months to build, Wallis says. PFH solicited St. Louis-based architect The Lawrence Group and worked with general contractor Banze Construction, but handled their own interior design.

They went with a coastal theme in terms of colors and furnishings in order to maintain a soothing atmosphere throughout the facility. Circular elements were also incorporated.

“In Preferred Family’s 35 years in business, this is the second or third ground-up building that we’ve designed,” Wallis says. “A lot of times you’re rehabbing a building and knocking out walls; you can’t really build it to the way you really want the flow to be. But we have a creative art studio that was made to be a creative art studio.”

The facility also has a wellness room with treadmills and weights where yoga sessions are held. Wallis describes the waiting room and dining room areas as open, relaxing and welcoming, and emphasizes the smooth, seamless circular flow of the building.

“It’s nice, circular—you’re not going to get lost,” he says. “When you walk through the front doors of the waiting room, immediately there’s a room where an assessment can happen. Then we have two beautiful family rooms right there. Parents don’t have to walk to the back of the building to find a corner to visit their loved one.”

Wallis says the building passes the “my kid test,” which he has used for over 20 years. “You pull in the driveway, walk through the front doors, and feel like this is somewhere my kid or loved one can go,” he says. 

Building relationships
The biggest challenge was building relationships in the city of St. Louis—not just with city hall and local politicians, but with the community and partner providers.

 “We had to make sure we made the folks happy and got permission to be there before we could start construction,” says Jamie Campbell, PFH vice president of operations.  

Many community members have been advocates for PFH, including the owner of a restaurant located next door who Wallis says didn’t even blink when they initially approached him about the facility.  

“Getting beyond that NIMBY [Not in My Backyard] syndrome, and convincing folks that we’re going to be a positive part of the neighborhood was crucial,” he says.

Wallis advises other leaders to complete their due diligence when considering building a facility from the ground-up, whether in a city or in the suburbs.

“It takes time to build those relationships to come in and do what we’re doing now,” he says. “There’s absolutely no way that we would be where we’re at without building good, strong, collaborative relationships.”