PINELLAS PARK — As a result of a shift toward home treatment, the youth group home at Personal Enrichment Through Mental Health Services will close by the start of the summer.
The Pinellas Park nonprofit, known as PEMHS, ran the home for boys and girls ages 11 to 18 with behavioral problems for almost five years. The group home served as a transition from the Statewide Inpatient Psychiatric Program back to the family or foster family. At PEMHS, the teens attend their local public school but receive therapy and live at 11254 58th St. N for up to three months.
PEMHS decided to close the 12-bed wing after seeing a lack of consistent referrals, said executive director Tom Wedekind. Parents can opt out of sending their child to a state-approved group home and instead get treatment at home.
Coupled with the cost of maintaining a regulated staff-to-student ratio, the group home has been bleeding financially for years with waves of low enrollment. The home has just five children now.
"That seems to be the way mental health responses seem to be going," Wedekind said.
He said the group home staff of 11 will be redistributed to a new in-home program as well as a children's crisis unit and adult unit. There are no plans yet for the facility.
PEMHS is funded by the Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration and Eckerd Community Alternatives.
While the program is not accepting more teens, current clients will be able to finish their programs and leave with a discharge plan.
The closing of the PEMHS wing means spillover for Carlton Manor, the only remaining residential treatment center for children and adolescents in Pinellas County.
Carlton Manor executive director Paul Buxbaum has been in talks with PEMHS about moving some boys to Carlton Manor, which has a few openings. Carlton Manor might have to make room for girls, as the home now is just for boys, ages 7 to 17.
"We're interested in expanding services, be it for girls or for boys," Buxbaum said.
He said his three group homes with a capacity for a total of 34 boys have seen a steady occupancy rate of 90 percent. He attributed the program's success to its strong relationship with the community and parental involvement.
"We appear to be less institutional," he said. "Our kids attend school every day in the community."
Though referrals occasionally decrease, and in-home programs are on the rise, Buxbaum said there's always a need for a transitional program.
"Whether that in-home program can provide the intensive level of service for whatever these kids need to make a successful transition, we'll find out within the next year," he said.
Colleen Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8913. Follow her @Colleen_Wright on Twitter.