As she sought a group home placement for her mentally ill, young adult daughter, commercial real-estate professional Carol Reynolds, president of Province Valuation Group of Sandy Springs, Ga. and a local NAMI member, found a lot that she didn’t like about these homes. She found that the surroundings were “very stark” and noted that due to the financial circumstances of many mentally ill residents, many of the homes were located in troubled or undesirable neighborhoods. Yet, even then there appeared to be a “huge need” and demand for residential treatment options due to the closure of psychiatric hospital units in the region.
After 20 plus years specializing in appraisals for acute-care, senior-care, and long-term residential facilities, Reynolds was reluctant to place her daughter into a facility she did not like. So, she decided to put her skills to work to create a new, residential mental health treatment setting.
It all started when she looked at a home across the street from her business, Province, which was located in a former single family home—one of 14 mature, mostly rental properties on a quiet mixed business/residential street. Working with an associate, who also owned a home in the neighborhood of mature residences, Reynolds acquired a third property.
“I decided to present three houses for rezoning,” she said. Her goal was to rezone the properties—all of which were originally single family homes— from office and institutional (O&I) use to a new use: assisted living for mentally ill or developmentally disabled individuals.
A logical presentation
Because she specializes in the valuation and market analysis of acute care, senior care, and assisted living properties, Reynolds was well prepared for the challenge and controversy involved in launching a residential mental health treatment center—what was to become The Cottages On Mountain Creek—in a neighborhood setting.
Some of The Cottages’ neighbors were upset by the prospect of a small mental health treatment community opening within their neighborhood. Some expressed concern to local officials, notably during the zoning process, that The Cottages might drive down property values or scare residential rental customers away. But once again, Reynolds’ experience in valuing, siting, and developing medical and assisted living properties served her well as she was able to show added real estate value for the neighborhood. “I know the business, so I was able to present the need in a logical way, maintain support for the project, and see it through.”
The financial challenge was also expected, she explains. “Bankers kept saying, ‘What is your demand? Where is your market data?’” Because she didn’t have any demand or pricing data for residential mental health businesses, Reynolds had to finance project costs herself—a challenging, but not insurmountable problem for an experienced businesswoman like her. But to satisfy future questions—and prove the worth of her investment—Reynolds worked with a market research firm to develop a national mental health housing survey and, with the help of the local NAMI chapter and the publisher of SZ (schizophrenia) magazine, launched it. She expects to have definitive survey data soon that will help her to identify national and regional service needs, pricing points, and other key information.
Launch with three types of services
After the success of her rezoning effort, Reynolds, now CEO of the new organization, acquired three more neighborhood homes, “got an assisted living license, made renovations, and decided to become Joint Commission accredited.” With those steps completed, Reynolds hired several key staff members and launched The Cottages On Mountain Creek. “We have a director of operations with over 20 years experience in mental health and SUD treatment, individual and group therapy, case management, medical management, and adjunct and life-skills training (yoga, culinary, music, equine, and more). Dietary and food needs are handled by an executive chef and an organic garden.
She sees The Cottages as a place where individuals with mental illness may take advantage of three levels of care: A 24/7 residential treatment program offers a range of intensive, supportive therapies for a period of six to twelve months. After acquiring these life skills, Reynolds sees many 24/7 residents stepping down to long-term structured independent living that offers fewer services with the freedom for residents to reach out and “live a fuller life” at work or in the community. A third option, day treatment, is open to non-resident consumers.
“We’re open now, with a female assisted living residence (her daughter is a resident), a wellness/therapy center, and two adjacent residences (one male, one female) for supportive independent living. The remaining two homes are open for future growth, with one likely to open as a male assisted living residence in the near term. At present, Reynolds says that, “We’re looking for long-term residents (male and female) in our 24/7 and structured independent living homes, and we have opened day-treatment services in our wellness center.”
A partnership with the community
As The Cottages enters the still small, but growing market for residential mental health treatment alternatives, Reynolds sees both promise and uncertainty. She believes that customers will respond to The Cottages’ bright and spacious “neighborhood” surroundings, its menu of supportive therapies, and its levels of care. While she awaits the survey data to validate these beliefs, Reynolds relies on her experience and instinct to guide The Cottages’ early growth.
She’s encouraged by what she calls a “partnership” with Sandy Springs city officials, 911 services, and local police. To her, this is evidence of the local support that The Cottages enjoys. Under the arrangement, any police or emergency dispatches to the vicinity of the Cottages are made by individuals who have had Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), which offers skills essential to responding to those with mental or behavioral disorders. She’s also thankful that The Cottages’ other neighbors, which include a nearby church and senior center, have embraced The Cottages and shared their facilities and friendship with the neighborhood’s newest residents.
While the ultimate financial and business success of The Cottages On Mountain Creek is yet to be realized, Reynolds has already realized a priceless reward. She’s delighted by “how much better” her daughter is doing now that she is a resident of The Cottages. “She’s flourishing,” says Reynolds. “When parents ask me about what is best for their mentally ill young adult, I always share what has been best for mine.”
NOTE: To learn more about or participate in the National Mental Health Housing Survey mentioned in this article, look for the print ad in the July/August print issue of Behavioral Healthcare magazine, or click on the ads found in the July issues of the BH weekly e-news.