An Omaha center that provides psychiatric treatment for adolescent boys will close next May, raising concerns about the availability of such care.
Officials of Cooper Village — one of just three organizations in Omaha providing residential care for that population — confirmed the decision to The World-Herald.
Uta Halee Girls Village, which runs Cooper Village, and the Omaha Home for Boys, which helps pay for it, informed their staffs on Wednesday.
Uta Halee's management agreement with the 47-bed Cooper Village will end next May. Uta Halee provides residential psychiatric treatment for adolescent girls, along with a range of community-based programs for girls and boys.
Uta Halee is not at risk of closing, its leaders say.
Jim Quinlan, vice president of the Uta Halee board, said the organization would strive “within available resources” to serve the Cooper Village population after next May. But citing financial reasons, Quinlan and Uta Halee's interim president and CEO, Mary Fraser Meints, said services would definitely end at the 130-acre Cooper Farm property owned by the Omaha Home for Boys at 8502 Mormon Bridge Road.
There's a paradox: Cooper Village provides what many say is a much-needed resource, but part of its financial difficulties stem from shorter stays producing less income and fewer youths being assigned there. Officials of Uta Halee, Cooper Village and the Omaha Home for Boys say the empty beds reflect the state's push for in-home services rather than more costly residential treatment. They said stagnant reimbursement rates also are a factor.
Todd Reckling, an official of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, said in a statement that the state has enjoyed a good partnership with Cooper Village and will work with it on a transition of services during the next year.
The expected loss of Cooper Village has rattled those who deal daily with what they say is a pressing need for mental health services for youths.
“Where else do they go?” asked Ann Marcuzzo, supervisor of the juvenile division for the Douglas County Public Defender's Office.
Marcuzzo said youths in the juvenile justice system often have to wait at the Douglas County Youth Detention Center for openings at Cooper Village or Boys Town, one of two local organizations providing residential psychiatric treatment for adolescent boys. The Immanuel Medical Center has an acute inpatient psychiatric ward and a separate 20-bed residential treatment facility on its campus for boys and girls ages 6 to 18.
“Nebraska doesn't have a lot of out-of-home facilities for our kiddos,” Marcuzzo said. “So to lose yet another one would be — I don't want to use the word devastating — but that would be a pretty big hit. We keep talking about juvenile justice. But if we're closing the placements ... what are we going to do?”
Nick Juliano, director of business development for Boys Town in Nebraska and Iowa, echoed the need for more mental health services for youths.
Boys Town has about 40 beds at its national research hospital on 30th Street for youths who need a higher level of care than that at its west Omaha campus. The hospital program operates close to capacity and serves children from Nebraska and other states.
Juliano, Marcuzzo and officials of the Omaha Home for Boys, Cooper Village and Uta Halee say they agree philosophically with the state's push to serve youths in homes whenever possible. It's cheaper, families can get more services, and less institutional care often is better for youths. But that doesn't eliminate the need for intense, 24-hour-a-day treatment in a locked residential facility.
“The kids need to be served somewhere,” Juliano said. “The reality exists that we still have very sick kids who still need a high level of care.”
Few people know that as well as Lavennia Coover, the Decatur, Neb., mother who made national headlines when she took the drastic step of using the state's since-changed safe haven law. She left her son, then 11, at a hospital to get more intensive psychiatric treatment.
Coover said Wednesday that her son eventually returned home, where he remained for about six months, until things recently got rough again.
She sought placement for him at a residential treatment center and was thrilled when the state found him one about 40 miles from home. He remains a state ward.
He could have gone to jail, she said. “With the way his mental illness is — that's not a proper placement for him.”
Coover said her son has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
She said that the state had provided in-home services but that her son needed a higher level of care. He continues to struggle at the Boys and Girls Home in Sioux City, Iowa, where he has lived since June 23.
“I'd rather see him there,” Coover said, “than in juvenile detention. ... If I could do it here with him by myself, I would be doing it. But I'm not able to do that.”
Cooper Village was established in 1994 at the behest of the State of Nebraska, said Scott Hazelrigg, president and CEO of the Omaha Home for Boys.
Hazelrigg said the Home for Boys was not equipped to provide intensive psychiatric services, so it helped create Cooper Village, a separate but affiliated entity. Cooper Village then contracted with Uta Halee to run programs.
In recent years, two developments occurred to end the relationship.
One was the rising cost of providing residential care coupled with flat reimbursements from the state. Hazelrigg said Cooper Village, which requires one-third of the Home for Boys' annual $14.6 million budget, became increasingly dependent on the home to cover rising costs and budget shortfalls.
Then, as costs were rising, the recession hammered the Omaha Home for Boys' endowment and donations. Hazelrigg said it became too expensive to operate Cooper Village.
In May, the Cooper Village board voted to terminate its management agreement with Uta Halee, triggering a 360-day sunset date. The board decided that it was no longer financially feasible to keep the center open, said Gary Perkins, chairman of the Cooper Village board.
The Omaha Home for Boys recently informed Cooper Village that it could not meet additional funding requests.
Denis McCarville, the outgoing director of Uta Halee and Cooper Village (the two share the same staff) had asked the Home for Boys for a $1 million escrow account and a 35- to 99-year lease on the Cooper Farm property for $1 a year.
McCarville, who is stepping down at the end of August, was unavailable for comment.
Perkins, meanwhile, said the board was “extremely proud” of the work done by Cooper Village and recognized the financial struggles that lay ahead.
“This was not a decision that was just made on the spur of the moment,” Perkins said. “We could no longer sustain programs we had.”
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