Centerpoint, which educates and counsels hundreds of teenagers, is poised to shut down

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Centerpoint Adolescent Treatment Services, which has long provided counseling and educational services to hundreds of at-risk youth, is expected to close on Sept. 1 even as the number of teens needing mental health support soars.

Centerpoint, which also operates a therapeutic school for teenagers, will close unless a new provider steps in, the three organizations that currently run it said. Howard Center, Northeastern Family Institute Vermont, and Matrix Health Systems blamed the closure’s financial pressures; by one estimate, Centerpoint has lost $1.5 million in the past two years.

The operating partners “have been working with program leadership over the past few months to develop a new agency that could operate Centerpoint,” said Chuck Myers, executive director of NFI Vermont. “Unfortunately, this has not happened at this time, although efforts continue.”

He cited “significant financial losses” over the past two years and “several decades of chronic underfunding of mental health and substance use services” that made Centerpoint’s operation unsustainable.

Other local nonprofit providers also said they are facing financial hardship as inflation drives up costs, state funding remains stagnant, and insurance reimbursement rates don’t cover expenses. Another of Vermont’s approximately 30 therapeutic schools, the Mosaic Learning Center, closed in June after 20 years. With campuses in Colchester and Morrisville, it served elementary and high school students.

All 36 Centerpoint employees will be laid off effective September 1, including its director, Mitch Barron.

Barron declined Seven daysinterview request. But in a written statement he said the “urgency, timing and style” of the layoffs took his organization by surprise.

Centerpoint leaders are exploring “a variety of opportunities and options to continue the customer support we provide” and look forward to continuing their services, Barron said. “We’ve received tremendous feedback of appreciation, concern, confusion, fear from the amazing young people and families we serve. Now is not the time to turn away.”

Centerpoint Therapeutic School has campuses in both Winooski and South Burlington. It serves students with learning disabilities or emotional, behavioral and mental health issues in small groups, emphasizing relationships and community, said its director of education, Katie Cunningham Seven days in May. Last year, 21 students attended the school.

For Burlington’s Courtney Quinlan, whose 18-year-old son, Avery, graduated from Centerpoint School in June, the potential loss looks devastating.

“Centerpoint was a place of refuge for my son after he struggled in public school,” Quinlan wrote Seven days. “He was able to be in a small class there and really developed trusting relationships with the staff and learned to stand up for himself and his disabilities.”

Quinlan said Centerpoint staff have been working closely with his family to help them through the challenges. Avery discovered a talent for photography and learned to operate the school darkroom. She said that neither of them imagined that she could be in the last graduating class.

Each week, Centerpoint also provides one-on-one, group and family counseling to more than 300 teen and young adult clients who are struggling with mental health, substance abuse and other issues. Those services will end on Sept. 1, according to Myers.

The looming closure also worries the state. In a statement, Mental Health Commissioner Emily Hawes said she was “deeply concerned” and noted that the organization “plays a crucial role in offering invaluable treatment services”.

While those services are “irreplaceable,” the state said it will work to “fill the gaps in service and ensure Vermonters get the much-needed care they deserve,” in part through the rollout of new community-based mobile crisis teams. Those teams have been on the job for months and are not a direct response to the Centerpoint shutdown.

The organizations that operate Centerpoint provide a number of other youth programs.

NFI Vermont operates four other therapeutic schools out of Chittenden County, as well as several small group homes. The Howard Center operates the Baird School in Burlington, which has about 48 students in grades K through 8 with social, emotional, and behavioral problems, and the Jean Garvin School in Williston, which has approximately 40 students in grades 7 through 12 who are struggling to be successful in school. The third operating partner, Matrix Health, is a medical practice of mental health, psychological and psychiatric service providers.

In addition to ending its affiliation with Centerpoint, the Howard Center also announced last month that money issues will force it to cut its budget and cut several other programs, including one for children with autism and a public education program. inebriation in St. Albans

Howard Center’s chief client services officer Beth Holden said in the statement it was “heartbreaking” that the organization needed to cut services, but that the agency would help clients “make a smooth transition” to other programs.

It won’t be easy in Chittenden County, where a small number of programs provide mental health services to adolescents, said Amanda Talbert, Riverstone Counseling Program Advisor at Spectrum Youth & Family Services. Talbert described the potential closure of Centerpoint as “a big deal.”

If Centerpoint shuts down, “where are those people going to go?” said Talbert. “We are in a mental health crisis, especially with teenagers.”

The data confirms it. According to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, administered bi-annually by the Vermont Department of Health, 35 percent of high school students in the state reported in 2021 that they had recently experienced mental health problems. Rates were significantly higher for LGBTQ+ and female students.

The matter is under the attention of the Vermont congressional delegation. On Thursday, U.S. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Congresswoman Becca Balint (D-Vt.) held a town meeting at Spaulding High School in Barre to discuss the ” national emergency” in youth mental health and acute shortages of critical services. In April, Balint introduced a bill that would establish a grant program to train teachers, assistant teachers and students to recognize the symptoms of mental disorders in children and adolescents and refer them to community resources. She also cosponsored the bipartisan Protecting Young Minds Online Act, which would require the federal government to develop a strategy to address the effects of social media and other new technologies on children’s mental health.

In an interview, Balint said he knows from talking to parents and children in northern Vermont that the closure of Centerpoint will be “devastating.”

“It is the worst possible time for this to happen, as we are in the midst of this terrible mental health crisis,” Balint said. “The solutions, in the long run, will require the kind of money you can only get from federal funds.” Balint said it’s challenging considering the “incredible dysfunction” in Congress.

Community advocates say Centerpoint’s struggles are indicative of a larger problem.

“As nonprofits struggle to meet a growing demand for services without increased funding, Vermont communities will continue to feel the direct impact of lower service capabilities and workforce reductions,” said Jesse Bridges, CEO. of United Way of Northwest Vermont.

Mark Redmond, executive director of Spectrum, agrees.

“Most human service providers have been funded to the same level by the state for years and years, spectrum included, and insurance companies do not reimburse the full cost of care,” Redmond wrote in an email. “With inflation at 8 to 9 percent, nonprofits that rely on state or insurance dollars to accomplish their mission find themselves in an almost impossible position. Simply put, we can’t get a job done in 2023 based on 2013 dollars”.

The landscape is equally challenging for specialized therapeutic school programs that serve students with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges.

Aside from Mosaic and Centerpoint, there are only five therapeutic schools in Chittenden County. Many are small or only serve specific groups, such as students with autism.

The new ones won’t be opening anytime soon. In this legislative session, lawmakers passed a moratorium on all new independent schools in an effort to better regulate them.

Erin Maguire, director of student support services at the Essex Westford School District said so Seven days that therapeutic schools typically have long waiting lists. Her district is trying to address the problem by starting an in-house counseling program for about 20 students in grades 3 through 8 this fall.

Melinda Neff, CEO of Two Roads Academy in Colchester, a therapeutic school that enrolled 10 middle and high school students last year, said teen needs are greater than they’ve ever been and public schools have struggled to hire staff to support students with mental health and behavioral needs.

Two Roads plans to increase its enrollment to 15 students in the fall. Neff said she has already received calls from families whose children have attended Mosaic and Centerpoint asking if there are any spots available.

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