About five years ago, New England Psychologist reported the Wild Acre Inn in Belmont, Mass., was changing hands. The residential treatment program, with several sites located within the Boston area, shuttered all but one by the fall of 2014. Bernard Yudowitz, MD, who ran the program since its founding in 1972, could not continue the program because of health issues. He called on John Sciretta, LICSW, for help.
Sciretta was Wild Acre’s chief clinical officer from 1983 to 1996. He moved on to build a private practice that included supported apartments and home-based management care in the area.
“I already had 12 apartment beds in two, two-family homes plus the home care division,” he explained. “So we just merged the two together.”
The original merger incorporated each of the locations, including one with three-acres that was used for Wild Acre’s horticultural work program. This program gave residents real work experience to get themselves back on their feet when they eventually left.
Unfortunately when Yudowitz asked Sciretta to run the business, Wild Acre Belmont ended up being all that was left. A real estate developer bought most of the properties. Without the three acres, Sciretta had no choice but to stop the horticultural program. But with Belmont as a base, Sciretta could continue the original vision of residential treatment.
Since then, things have continued to expand to include two other homes, satellite apartments, and home-based care management. Belmont continues to house patients with chronic mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who stay for two to three years while Wild Acre Cushing works to get patients back into a normal routine within three to six months.
Cushing offers an aggressive treatment program for younger people who may have had their first mental health issue in college or early post-graduate jobs. It’s meant to be a “reboot” for those who have gotten a little off track in work or school.
Wild Acre Waverly is the newest edition. Opened in early March, the facility specifically targets people with depression and anxiety who have substance abuse issues. As Sciretta put it, it is a dual-diagnosis program—dealing with the underlying illness while working on the substance abuse at the same time.
So why take on a residential program and try to make it grow? For Sciretta, that was an easy answer.
“It’s a safe, predictable environment. People gain a lot from living with other people,” he said. “Outside, they don’t want to talk about their symptoms. But here, they can talk about their challenges.”
There are other benefits to residential programs like Wild Acre. Patients are residents rather than “a case” or “client” and they are made to feel that way.
Residents learn to take responsibility for themselves and their personal care including medications in stabilizing and structured routines.
Sciretta pointed out that supportive relationships can form when talking with people who have similar mental health experiences. Even better, residents at Wild Acre get to take their care with them when they eventually leave the program.
“The programs work with outside clinicians, psychiatrists, and therapists,” he said, “so when the patients leave the program, they can keep their ‘team’ intact.”
Wild Acre is not alone in its mission to help people have a productive life despite mental illness. Two other facilities in particular focus on a residential environment for better growth and development.
Eikos in the greater Boston area has residential programs at two homes as well as satellite apartments. Their main site acts as the “hub” for daily activities and is home to about a dozen residents at any given time.
The other locations are set up for different functional levels to allow for greater independence.
Gould Farm, established in 1913 in Monterey and one of the oldest residential treatment programs in the nation, has much the same focus as Wild Acre. Helping those with mental health challenges recover and gain independence through community living, they offer a working farm as a vehicle for that recovery.
Their model is a larger scale of what Yudowitz envisioned in his initial horticultural program. It’s a way to gain real life experiences at the same time treatment occurs.
So far, the Wild Acre facilities have a total of nearly 60 patients with a little room to grow. Sciretta said his organization is helping people learn how to live with their illness.
“It’s powerful to have a milieu where people work toward similar goals,” he said. “It’s like a reset button.”
By Eileen Weber