Short-term mental health facility opens in Maplewood


Aundrea Kinney/Review • During an April 12 open house event, community members were welcomed into Afton Place to see the renovations HealthPartners did to the building and to learn more about the short-term residential mental health transitional support program that began there April 18. After touring the building, most in attendance gathered to chat in the dining area where patients eat family-style meals and learn nutritional and budgeting skills.

Aundrea Kinney/Review • The sensory room at Afton Place is filled with many sensory and relaxation objects to help clients learn calming exercises. Some examples include a white noise machine, dim lights, bean bag chairs, fidget spinners and a serene woodland image covering one of the walls. All were chosen because they are things patients can bring into their own homes to continue benefiting from the exercises they learn.

Aundrea Kinney/Review • Afton Place offers 16 single bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. At most, the facility will house 16 patients, whose typical stay will be between 60 and 90 days.

Aundrea Kinney/Review • Afton Place’s large group room can be used for a number of activities including yoga and art therapy. It can also be divided into two smaller rooms, if needed.

Despite a bump in the road just over a year ago, Afton Place, a short-term residential mental health transitional support facility in Maplewood, began taking in patients April 18 after hosting a successful public open house event the week before.

Back in January 2017, when it came time for the Maplewood City Council to approve the conditional use permit for the facility, a number of Carver Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization members spoke out against having the facility housed across the street from the school, but according to the PTO’s treasurer, Kristin Mersberger, her concerns have since been addressed.

Mersberger acknowledged that there is a great need for short-term mental health facilities, but said that her initial concerns were over the kind of patients who would use the services, the goal patients would be working towards and what procedures would be in place to make sure there is no negative impact on the neighborhood or school.

“I would say all of our questions were answered and steps have been put in place to keep facility administrators in communication with the city of Maplewood and Carver administration,” Mersberger said after attending the April 12 open house. 

She added, “I don’t foresee any safety concerns, but do expect them to be transparent and open if any issues arise. Our No. 1 goal is the safety of our students and staff. I think I can speak for the PTO by saying our No. 2 goal would be that this facility is successful and the patients thrive.”

Maplewood Mayor Nora Slawik said that she feels HealthPartners, the parent company of the facility, worked hard with Carver Elementary School and the community over the past year to make sure people knew that the city has conditions in place that the facility will have to meet and that there will be consequences if it doesn’t.

“We carefully worked with this program and these administrators to bring a therapeutic program to Maplewood, and it’s going to help people in our area, and that’s important,” Slawik said.

 

Serving the community

Joshua Zimmerman, the senior medical director for behavioral health at Afton Place, explained the facility is designed to help people with serious mental illnesses transition from a hospital setting back into society. 

“As an intensive residential treatment facility, we’re getting people who have what we would call serious mental illness, which I usually think of as mental illness which puts you at risk of losing your job, puts your financial livelihood at risk and can put you in the hospital,” Zimmerman said. “We’re usually seeing the folks who have gotten so sick that they’ve needed to be in the hospital for a fairly extended period of time, so very bad depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or psychotic disorders.”

A typical stay at Afton Place will be between 60 and 90 days, said Ted Witte, the treatment director of the program. He added that beginning the first day a patient is at Afton Place, staff will be working with the individual to determine what that person needs to be successful after being discharged, so that the patient can be matched with the most meaningful resources during his or her stay.

Slawik said that in addition to providing a needed service, Afton Place meets a number of other community needs including utilizing a building that had been vacant for a long time, adding that it wasn’t as nice of a space before HealthPartners renovated it. The building’s last use was as an office building and print shop.

“I don’t think that there’s going to be a lot of violence or anything like that. It’s a very peaceful environment,” Slawik said.

 

What Afton Place 

has to offer

Afton Place has 16 single rooms, each with its own bathroom, so at most it will house 16 residents. All of the bedrooms, as well as the other rooms in the facility, are painted with bright colors, making it look relaxing and inviting, unlike some hospitals.

One of the bedrooms is entirely wheelchair accessible, and to ensure all of the facility’s common spaces are wheelchair accessible, an elevator was added to the building.

The facility also offers a lounge, a large group room with a divider and a sensory room.

Zimmerman explained that the sensory room is filled with objects that can be used in breathing, sensory and relaxation exercises such as a white noise machine, bean bag chairs, dim lighting and fidget spinners — all things clients can use at home.

“Some people really connect well with cognitive therapy, which sort of focuses on your thoughts, but it means you have to have a good working understanding of your thoughts,” Zimmerman said. 

“Some people just work much better with behavioral-based therapies, so rather than focusing on what I’m thinking, more just breathing and visualizing that I’m here in this forest with these trees,” he added, referencing a wall of the room covered with an enlarged photo of a forest.

Other areas providing learning opportunities are the kitchen and dining area. A full-time chef will be on hand to provide patients family-style meals, which Witte said will help them build social skills. He added the space will also be used to learn nutritional and budgeting skills.

Afton Place has three staffers working with clients during the day, another three in the evening and two overnight. The staff areas are open, so that patients can always find and talk to staff members.

Witte added that having nurses on staff allows Afton Place to include patients that the facility wouldn’t otherwise be able to include, due to their physical health issues. He added, for example, that nurses can help patients who might be newly diagnosed with diabetes, who are needing to learn how to check their insulin levels or patients who need help caring for wounds they may be recovering from.

“The leading cause of death of people with serious and persistent mental illness is actually heart disease,” Zimmerman said, adding that nurses on site can help clients make sure all their health issues are managed.

“I think that it’s going to be a really needed facility in our community and was glad that the opening went smoothly and that it’s going to be in business,” Slawik said.

She added that she was especially impressed after being introduced at the open house to Megan Remark, president and CEO of Regions Hospital, which is a part of HealthPartners.

“I think that [by sending Megan] they are sending a signal that it’s really important to them that this facility do well and that they’re eager to fit into the city, and I was really glad to see that,” Slawik said. “The community needed to learn about [Afton Place], but once they did, we all understand that there are people that need help and we want to embrace them.”

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com


 

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