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Worthington Autism Crisis Center Helps Fill Treatment Gap In Ohio

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Mandie Trimble
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WOSU
Rhonda Beckett visits her daughter, Lili, at The Elijah Glen Center in Worthington. The facility, which treats autistic patients in crisis, can be an alternative to acute treatment, like the emergency room.

An autistic adolescent in crisis can be a scary and dangerous situation. Many kids end up in the ER or psychiatric ward where they’re temporarily stabilized, often with drugs. Then they’re sent home where another behavioral emergency could recur. A new Columbus intensive treatment facility offers families an alternative.

Rhonda Beckett, from Lewis Center, is no stranger to crisis.

“She bloodied herself. Knocked out her front tooth," Beckett recalled. 

Beckett’s 13-year-old daughter, Lili, was diagnosed with autism when she was two. Until recently, she has been able to attend school and socialize with others. But Lili’s behavioral crises have become a safety issue.

“She would really hurt herself," Beckett said. "And if any caregiver, family member or loved one stepped in, she would become aggressive towards them.”

Some situations became so severe, caregivers called 911.

“Lili ended up in the emergency room [where] she was sedated, because what can you do with someone who’s really harming themselves?”

But Beckett calls that a Band-Aid for what Lili really needed:  intensive, in-patient therapy.

Few treatment facilities are equipped to handle the psychiatric, medical and behavioral services needed for adolescents in crisis.

Many centers have long wait lists. And for people in Ohio the facilities aren’t nearby. Marla Root, of Columbus, discovered that when her 15-year-old son needed help.

“We did find placements in Florida, Massachusetts, Philadelphia that did have more expertise and were more appropriate; but we didn’t want our son to be that far away," Root said. 

So Root founded The Elijah Glen Center, in Worthington, at the former Harding Hospital campus. It opened this spring. It’s a residential behavioral treatment facility for 12 - 18-year-olds with autism or intellectual developmental disabilities in crisis.

“We’ll get kids that are stepping down from psychiatric acute care, but we’ll also get those kids who are, OK, things are bad, we are in crisis. We don’t want to take them to the ER because the ER, we know, is just med management, and they need more behavioral intervention. So we want to get right into the step down facility where they can have both," Root said. 

The 14-bed facility has a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, behavioral analysts and 24-hour nursing staff.

Christine Fannin leads behavioral analysts. They figure out what triggers a patient to act out and then teach them coping skills.

“A lot of youth have never had any kind of behavioral support," Fannin said. "Or maybe they have it for a very short amount of time, and they’ve only received behavioral intervention when they started to go into crisis.”  

The center tracks daily behavioral data and sets goals. Reduce challenging behaviors by 80 percent. Reduce self-injurious behaviors by 80 percent. Increase new coping skills by 50 percent.

When asked about meeting those benchmarks, Fannin offers a candid answer.

"It's a hard goal to meet, I'll be honest. We do have individuals engaging in problem behavior for a long amount of time before we are stepping in to teach them," Fannin said. “If I can reduce the magnitude or the length of an individual of engaging in that behavior, then that would be success, as well.” 

But learning how to cope and communicate doesn’t happen overnight. The average patient stay at the Elijah Glen Center is four to nine months. The cost is not cheap:  $800 a day. While some insurance companies cover behavioral treatment, Root said the trend is for facilities to rely on government help.

"It is extremely expensive and probably the reason why you don’t see more of them pop up," she said. 

Rhonda Beckett said her daughter, Lili, has been at the center about two months. Initially there was a lot of observation of Lili’s behaviors to understand what prompted her self-injury. But the “methodical” treatment, as Beckett called it, is paying off.

“Remarkably, the data indicates that she is learning these new skills and she is going to be able to go back and function in a classroom, at the mall, at a restaurant with her family," Beckett said. "Whereas we couldn’t do that prior to this because she was unable to be in a group environment and be safe.”

And that’s what Beckett wants most for Lili, to be able to cope, socialize with others and ultimately live in a group environment.