Gerard Academy looks to future after 4 decades

Published 10:12 am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Gerard Academy has come a long way since 1969, when Joseph Endres first opened it as Gerard School at the former Jay C. Hormel mansion.

A provider of psychological, psychiatric and behavioral needs of children and adolescents, the campus is celebrating 40 years Aug. 20 with an invitational program for the board of directors, local government and dignitaries.

When the program was founded by Endres, who came from a treatment facility in Texas, he intentionally looked to house Gerard in a mansion, an “environment and culture so different from the type of environment they (the residents) grew up in,” executive director Brent Henry said.

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Endres founded Gerard in a time when residential treatment facilities were still a new concept. He argued that environment was important when treating children.

Henry, who was the third person hired by Endres for the Mason City facility and moved to Austin in 1990, said Gerard now typically serves children for six to 10 months, rather than the two to three years when the facility started. He said some things have changed since 1969, but the overall philosophy of the facility is the same, a sentiment that Nexus — who purchased Gerard from Henry and six other owners in 1999 — shares.

“There’s more regulation in terms of what we do; there’s more watchdogs in terms of what we do,” Henry explained. “A lot in terms of how we view kids … has really not changed.”

Gerard has 77 beds and houses boys and girls ages 6 to their 19th birthday. Currently, they have 139 staff and 70 residents, above average for the usually slow summer months.

“Virtually every month we have been above what we planned on,” Henry said.

According to Gerard, “youth are typically referred by social workers, probation officers, parents or hospitals; at this point, other less structured treatment environments have been unsuccessful, and the next option is a residential treatment program. Gerard Academy admissions criteria are evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

The vast majority of Gerard residents come from Minnesota, and most not from the Austin area.

“It all depends on the county,” Henry said. “We’re not cheap.”

Gerard has added on to the facility, located on 28th Street Northeast, over the years, adding the year-round New Dominion School in 2005 and a dormitory in 2006.

Staff turnover is usually high at 23 percent, but Henry said the facility’s rate is actually much lower than the national average for group care, 70 percent. The constant rotating door can be mostly attributed to youth counselors, a challenging position that is usually held by young people and does not require a degree.

“We have people who’ve been here a long, long time,” Henry pointed out.

With 40 years under its belt, Gerard is looking to the future, and has a strategic plan that includes building a gymnasium someday. Residents usually have physical education outside or at the YMCA; winter months pose a challenge. Gerard also implemented a 45-bed assessment program, which averages four to six residents.

“I hope that we will be continued to be known for the excellence we provide,” Henry said. “We’re always in the process of adding services. We’re trying to let people know we are a resource on things.”