Helping families find a ray of hope; Gerard Academy of Austin implements outpatient program

Published 10:27 am Friday, May 8, 2015

Executive Director of the Gerard Academy in Austin Brent Henry and Clinical Director Pam Retterath stand in front of the academy, which is now offering outpatient services. -- Jenae Hackensmith/ jenae.hackensmith

Executive Director of the Gerard Academy in Austin Brent Henry and Clinical Director Pam Retterath stand in front of the academy, which is now offering outpatient services. — Jenae Hackensmith/

The Gerard Academy in Austin is known for helping troubled children ages 6-18, but it recently opened its doors wider to fill a larger need.

Gerard has implemented a new outpatient program in Austin and the surrounding communities, which will help families and children who still live at home.

“It just seemed like the next evolution of our growth,” Gerard Executive Director Brent Henry said. “And our mission statement changed to include families and community, so we have a wealth of knowledge here, expertise at Gerard, and it just seemed to us the best way to serve the community was to transition into this outpatient program.”

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Henry hopes to spread the word that patients can now seek help at Gerard without having to live at the facility, though he admitted that’s a culture change for Gerard and the community.

“I think we have a job to do to change that perception of Gerard, because we are known for residential treatment,” Henry said. “We’re not known for outpatient treatment.”

The program began in March — earlier than Henry anticipated — but he said it’s been going well. There are about 15 patients already seeking help in the program.

Clinical Director Pam Retterath said there is a shortage of resources in the Austin area and hopes this will help fill the need. She said many times people wait to get therapy until they really need it, and after that there is usually a wait of at least a few weeks.

“We’ve got some resources to help out,” she said.

Gerard provides individual therapy, family therapy, group therapy and psychological testing and assessment, as well as diagnostics assessments. Employees also help with consultation on the best course of treatment for children. Leaders also hope to change the perceptive of therapy in general, making it easier for people to seek help instead of being ashamed to ask for help.

Henry hopes the new program will expand to help children ages 0-5 as well, and some therapists at Gerard already have the skill set for that age-range. Leaders at Gerard spoke with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, Mower County and Austin Public Schools before starting the program to determine the need in the area.

“[We] heard from all three that there was a real need in Austin for more outpatient programs,” Henry said.

He said one of the things Gerard leaders heard from APS and Mower County was a need for early childhood mental health. Since the outpatient program started, Retterath said they have been able to help more local children and families.

“We used to always have to refer out to provide continuity of care, so we can help kids that are placed here that live within a 30- to 40-mile radius,” she said.

“We can provide the continuum of care that we couldn’t,” she added.

Retterath said the leaders at Gerard are passionate about helping children and families get on the right track.

“Pretty much all our therapists are trauma focused — cognitive behaviorally trained — which is huge, and we’re very family centered,” Retterath said. “I mean, kids don’t get better in a vacuum. It has to be a collaborative effort between the family, the child and ourselves.”

Henry hopes to help recognize those struggling and let people know they have more to offer the community.

“I would hope that we empower and strengthen families at the end of the day,” Henry said. “And I think it’s by-in-large all family work, and to stabilize families and strengthen families.”