Clara’s House expands to provide more services

At any given time, nearly 60 kids living in Central Minnesota are in desperate need of help to manage their behavioral health or chemical dependency issues.

To help meet the increased demand for behavioral health and chemical dependency services, St. Cloud Hospital is expanding Clara’s House. Clara’s House is a place devoted to providing individualized and specialized treatment to youth ages 5 to 18 in an atmosphere that is warm, nurturing and supportive of their efforts to regain and maintain health. Each year, more than 300 youths find hope and healing at Clara’s House.

Construction has begun to add 9,000-square feet to the existing 14,000 to accommodate more youth in the child, middle school, and adolescent programs. The addition also will provide dedicated space for the therapeutic creative arts program. Art therapy at Clara’s House helps youth express their feelings after experiencing a trauma such as neglect, abuse, loss of a loved one or other devastating events.

“The new space will allow us to give these kids their own area and age-specific programming,” said Theresa Lau, M.D., St. Cloud Hospital child and adolescent psychiatry. “We also will be able to enhance our art, yoga, music and pet-therapy programs which all aid in identifying children’s issues and are used as tools in teaching children how to identify and manage their emotions and thoughts.”

Funding for the expansion was provided by generous benefactors, with more than $1.9 million being raised. The final project will cost $2.2 million and construction is anticipated to be complete in the summer of 2012.

Mae Ellingson-Skalicky ignited the fundraising campaign with her second gift of $1 million in December. “Five years ago, I found a new purpose for my life which allowed me to join hands with CentraCare Health System and help change young lives,” Ellingson-Skalicky said. “Together we built Clara’s house, which is named in honor of my mother who spent her life loving and caring for children. Many children are suffering with a mental illness. Of those, a great number self medicate to ease their pain. This can enable them to become addicted to alcohol, prescription, over-the-counter or illegal drugs sold on the street. I gave this gift so we can help more kids at Clara’s House.”

About adolescent mental health.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), more than 35 percent of children exposed to a single traumatic event will develop serious mental health problems. Further, SAMHSA reports that studies on the brain indicate that physical, emotional, or sexual abuse in childhood can cause permanent damage to the brain and result in lasting problems such as depression, anxiety, aggression, impulsiveness, delinquency, hyperactivity and substance abuse. Suicide is the leading cause of teenage deaths in the United States.

It is the goal of Clara’s House to assist youth in tapping into their resiliency to avoid a lifetime of poor decision making, difficulty with relationships, substance abuse and even death. Clara’s House plays a vital role in providing a lifeline and hope for their future.

“I decided to make another $1 million contribution because of my commitment to the kids that Clara’s House serves,” Ellingson-Skalicky said. “Teenage suicide is rampant in Minnesota and around the nation. There is no price that can be put on the life of a child. It is time we eradicate the stigma that has been attached to the terrible disease of mental illness.

We need to do all we can to help our children recover and live happy, productive lives. I would like other community members to join me in making our children and their health our number one priority by giving a donation to Clara’s House.”

Facts about challenges facing Central Minnesota

• One in five children and adolescents will suffer from mental health issues –– only 20 percent will receive adequate treatment.

• Before 1999, there was not a single full-time child and adolescent psychiatrist in the 12-county area of Central Minnesota making it one of the highest need areas in the nation for these services. Today there are four psychiatrists and four advanced practice psychiatry nurses.

• The demand for services continues to be great. The waiting list for child and adolescent psychiatry appointments is three to four weeks; for child and adolescent psychology, three months; and from one to five months at Clara’s House.

• In fiscal year 2010, St. Cloud Hospital spent $4.4 million more than it received in reimbursements to provide behavioral health services for children, adolescents and adults, yet the patients seeking care grew by more than 19 percent during that same period.