After analyzing the possibility for the past month, Twin Cedars Youth & Family Services Inc. executive director Mike Angstadt has changed his mind and decided not to submit a proposal for his not-for-profit organization to take over the Warm Springs Outdoor Therapeutic Program, which served hundreds of troubled teens for 30 years before the state closed it at the end of August.
"I looked at trying to make OTP viable and sustainable six ways to Sunday," Angstadt said, "and from stakeholders I talked to, I just can't do it."
Angstadt, who was OTP's original director (1983-95), said he spoke with officials at the Georgia Juvenile Justice Department and the Division of Family and Children's Services, the two agencies that have referred youth to the wilderness-themed residential program.
OTP's 600 acres were carved out of F.D. Roosevelt State Park off Ga. Highway 190 in Meriwether County, about 40 miles north of Columbus. If the property isn't used for a purpose at least similar to OTP, then ownership would revert to the Department of Natural Resources.
Angstadt and state Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, Ga., a Twin Cedars board member, praised the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, which ran OTP, for delaying formal action and allowing time for a proposal to be submitted in time for DBHDD's next board meeting, Oct. 21. Now, however, Angstadt won't need that much time, despite unanimous support from the eight-membrer Twin Cedars executive committee to pursue the idea.
"I crunched the numbers for repairs and maintenance and salaries and capital expenditures and start-up costs, and I couldn't get it into the black," said Angstadt, who estimated he needed $1.7 million in the first year to cover expenses. "My heart kept saying, 'What the hell. Let's go ahead anyway.' Then I thought, 'That's not responsible. You've got other kids in other program, and you are going to sacrifice resources for them to where you're emotionally drawn?' I just can't do that."
Twin Cedars is headquartered in LaGrange and has facilities in Columbus, Macon and Opelika.
"I wish I would have arrived at a different conclusion, and it hurts," Angstadt said. "I can't always do what I want to do to help children and families, but I always try to do that next right thing."
Angstadt and Buckner said they don't know of any other organizations that expressed interest in reviving OTP.
"I was led by my heart, but God gave me a brain too, and I want to do the right thing," Angstadt said. "I want to do what's prudent."
Buckner said she told Angstadt, "Sometimes Cinderella's shoe doesn't fit, no matter how much you try to make it fit.
"I'm sorry it didn't work out, but I'm glad we were able to explore it thoroughly."
DBHDD told OTP's 33 full-time and 10 part-time employees July 31 that it would close the program Aug. 31. DBHDD communications director Matt Carrothers has said the residential program doesn't fit the department's revised mission to shift treatment from centralized institutions to facilities closer to home. OTP finished fiscal year 2013 with a deficit of $687,157 after expenditures of $2,335,699 and its July 31 enrollment of 18 youth was less than half its capacity of 44, he said.
OTP supporters say the program wasn't a line item in the state budget anymore and relied on $300,000 from DBHDD and $164 per day for each child referred by the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Division of Family and Children Services. The DJJ accounts for the majority of those referrals but inexplicably stopped them in June, effectively causing the program to run a deficit, OTP supporters say.
A year ago, the enrollment was 33, and there was a waiting list as recently as this winter, an OTP employee said on condition of anonymity. As recently as fiscal year 2011, the employee said, the program was self-supporting and returned $50,000 to the state, but DBHDD stopped allowing private-pay OTP clients.
OTP was considered a unique program because it was the only state facility where troubled teens could live, receive treatment and go to school. It was an alternative for youth who didn't fare well in treatment while living at home and wanted a last chance before possibly ending up in a detention center.
A former OTP employee said teens who were in the program when it closed, and whose family or insurance could afford it, went to private residential facilities, others went to juvenile detention centers and the rest were sent back home.
Jim Shuler, a spokesman for the state's Department of Juvenile Justice said that 13 of the OTP youth were referrals from the DJJ.
"Six transitioned home to their communities to continue to receive services from home," he said. "The remaining seven youth were transitioned to other DJJ-approved programs.
"All youth in DJJ care and custody are evaluated to determine the level of their individual needs. All 13 youth who were formerly at the Warm Springs program are currently receiving alternate services appropriate to their needs."ONLINE ONLY
For links to previous stories about the Warm Springs Outdoor Therapeutic Program, click on this story at www.ledger-enquirer.com.