By Treva Lind
While continuing a youth focus, a longtime Spokane facility took steps in 2020 to expand care for a wider community. Now as Excelsior Wellness, those steps are drawing more people for outpatient health and educational services – serving more than 5,000 families.
The former Excelsior Youth Center on West Indian Trail Road long operated as a residential youth facility. Further back, it was the Good Shepherd Home overseen by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd that mostly served young women until 1982, when Excelsior took over and began operating it as a coeducational facility with counselors and teachers.
The next years meant care for inpatient and outpatient clients, including youth involved with criminal justice, foster care, behavior problems and substance abuse. But gone are longtime residential services, a move started in 2015 to expand outpatient care, said Andrew Hill, Excelsior CEO. Applying facility experience outward makes sense.
“I’ve been working here since 2008,” Hill said. He and other staff watched the intentions of health care reforms and the Affordable Care Act to integrate care, connect body to the mind and ensure health care access without separated silos. “I’m looking around at Excelsior and seeing integrated care and holistic services all in one place.
“The intention has been to take what Excelsior has as institutional knowledge, put that out as public-facing and offer it to the community. From that intention, we went from serving 50 kids on a campus who had a high level of need to now serving over 5,000 families in our community and keeping youth and family stable.
“It’s really about getting upstream and then putting in practice what this organization had learned.”
To do that in 2020, the nonprofit created four entities: Excelsior Family Medicine, Excelsior Holistic Schools, Excelsior Wellness Center and Excelsior Integrated Care Center. Under transitions, the 40-acre campus will be more a public place, community center and outpatient treatment agency, Hill said. It will have a public arboretum.
“We’re thinking about it as a continuum of care,” he said. “That continuum starts with education. We have Excelsior Holistic Schools, which is a variety of schools. There’s Excelsior Wellness Center; that’s community center services with integrated behavioral health and family medicine. That’s provided through Excelsior Family Medicine.”
Excelsior Family Medicine has a traditional clinic and co-locations in the wellness center and in schools, he said. Meanwhile, its wellness center operates one of the state’s largest intensive mental health programs, called WISe+ with wraparound, intensive services for ages up to 21, currently serving about 180 families.
Excelsior also runs LifePoint, a transition-age youth program mainly for those leaving foster care. It recently purchased adjacent parcels to build LifePoint Center to offer transition housing for youth and young adults. Created in 2015, the program has had 100% of its youth in varying support services gain jobs and individual housing.
Separately, inpatient services are in the nonprofit’s Excelsior Integrated Care Center, a newly constructed building. “It’s the state’s first trauma-informed children’s inpatient that’s providing a level of stabilization for kids 6 to 12 years old,” Hill said. Short inpatient stays might be a few days – for treatment and stabilization – but with intent for kids to go back home with wraparound services to support them and their families.
“It’s more of a brief intervention that is medical-focused,” Hill said. Before, such services were only in Kootenai County or the West Side. However, steps to open April 2020 were delayed by the pandemic. Eventually, it opened under a staff live-in model to follow safety rules, Hill said. “Right now, there are about nine kids being served in that building in a way that provides for safety with the pandemic, and it has the capacity to serve 32.”
Integrated-care focuses consider social determinants of health, environment, financial health and social and spiritual wellness, Hill added, “because the more we can create a sense of stability in lives, the less emotional disruption, and then there’s less negative behavior choices and better health outcomes.
“Our system is moving away from community behavioral health and moving toward integrating behavioral health into primary care,” Hill added. But it’s key to serve all populations, “especially when considering disparities among racial and ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.”
Hill said families are responding that they’re finally feeling understood and surprised at one-stop services. School options include regular education, vocational training, online and individualized learning plans – all with access to behavioral health and health care. It has elementary, middle and high school options for fourth through 12th grades.
In 2019, Excelsior began a contract with Spokane Public Schools with the closing of Eagle Peak to serve students with special needs from fourth through 12th grades. Hill said the nonprofit also has contracts with Riverside and Mead providing special education for students who need a more individualized approach.
“We’re the only private nonpublic agency approved to provide special education to the public east of the Cascades,” Hill said. “That’s an example of how we can take that opportunity and experience, then put it publicly facing to help a school district that’s trying to figure out how to stop seclusion and restraint with students who have behavioral-health disabilities and not punish them for the behaviors related to their disabilities.”
Hill said Excelsior Wellness as a parent entity serves as an operating arm to engage, stabilize and do immediate response and assessment, then drives referrals.
Excelsior also created a new health equity scholarship, Hill said. “It was started this past summer after George Floyd’s death as a scholarship for racial and ethnic minorities who are accepted into advanced degree scholarships in education, criminal justice or health care.
“We want more racial and ethnic minorities in those fields with advanced degrees getting those leadership roles and having influence.”
The first recipient of that scholarship is Michael Bray, now an Excelsior Holistic Schools mental health counselor. That mix of Excelsior’s history, employees and Bray’s story drew a film crew Sept. 10 on campus for a future episode of “Viewpoint,” a documentary-style show for public television hosted by Dennis Quaid. It often has a diversity focus along with social and educational programming.
Another employee, Sue Bell, will mark 46 years in October at the site. A medical care coordinator and medical assistant, she cares for youths ages 6 to 12.
“We’re serving just over 5,000 people across all entities and in all the continuum of services from education to higher-acuity medical,” Hill said.
“We provide services regardless of ability to pay, accept all kinds of insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. It can be any age, individual adults or an elder who is a caregiver. Honestly, it’s amazing to see the gratitude in an elder’s face who is there to bring a grandchild and realizes they can get services here, too.”