Bear River Health of Walloon Lake is planning an expansion into the Village of Boyne Falls which will add new services to its existing medically monitored detox, residential care, and outpatient services for people with substance abuse problems.
Bear River Health officials introduced their plan, which involves the former Boyne Falls Public School building they bought, to the Village of Boyne Falls Council during the board’s regular monthly meeting on Tuesday Oct. 8.
“Right now, the school is being utilized for our administrative offices,” said Bear River Health Billing Administrator Jackie Wurst. “We’ve kind of outgrown our other campus up at the Walloon Junction.”
Bear River Health offers a residential program anywhere from less than one week up to ninety days.
“How the school is going to be utilized is we have two nonprofit organizations that we actually have organized,” Wurst said. “The one is an alumni foundation… Their primary purpose is to help people succeed in longevity of sobriety.”
She added, “They’re there to support them—community activities, meetings, community resources, scholarship programs they’re developing for housing, education, transportation—any necessities they may need coming out of rehab.”
Bear River Health began operating in 2015 in Walloon Lake with seven employees.
“We now have 74 full-time employees, so we have established growth in the community,” said Bear River Health Deputy Executive Director Heather Diggs. “So, with the school, we will grow into the community and we anticipate having over 30 full-time positions that will be available in the local community.”
She added, “We love the school, we love the campus that was there, and especially the gym so we can offer recreational activities to the clients that we have.”
Diggs said Bear River Health has had a great success rate with its program.
“We do cater to those that have substance use and mild mental health concerns,” she said.
Wurst said the alumni are going to be utilizing the facility for recovery-based activities.
“There are specific rules that we expect them to follow—we won’t be having anything after 9:30 at night, so that it doesn’t disrupt the community,” she said. “We are aware that there’s neighbors around… We do have very grounded rules and expectations of the people participating in that program.”
The other nonprofit organization developed by Boyne River Health is a primary care program.
They are currently waiting for Medicare certification, which is expected within the next two months.
“That clinic is going to be for Medicaid, it’s going to be for Medicare, and it’s going to be for non-insured patients,” Wurst said… “It’s going to be a rural healthcare clinic. We’ll have an ambulance bay that’s actually built into the facility so, if there’s anything that comes in that’s urgent that we need to stabilize, we can transfer out.”
She added, “It’s something that we’ve found that this area is lacking … easy access to healthcare. You have a 30-minute drive every way for it.”
Bear River Health is also looking to eventually expanding its withdrawal management unit at the new Boyne Falls location.
“We really want to make sure that we involve the community, we educate you guys on the clients that are going to be coming down here, and make sure that we answer any questions at all,” she said.
Village of Boyne Falls President Bill Carson Jr. said there has been some questions regarding the playground on the property.
Bear River Health officials said there was an option to purchase the playground but it had not decided whether to do so.
Carson Jr. said the village had the option to buy the playground for a dollar and then potentially use money from the Charlevoix County Recreational grant to improve the property.
The board also asked about parking on Maple Street. Diggs said they will ensure employees park in the proper area.
The projected date to open the new facility will depend upon construction.
Bear River Health officials say they anticipate construction will begin between March and May of next year.
The facility could be fully operational by next October.
To help ensure the security of patients as well as the community, patients who wish to use the gym and the facilities at the Boyne Falls location will be required to sign an attendance sheet, will be bused in, and monitored. They will not be allowed to leave the facility without staff knowing. Also, the smoking enclosure will be gated.
“We’re watching them very closely,” Wurst said. “We’re keeping everything safe and secure because we know that there’s that hesitation with the population, but this is what we do for a living. We love this and we’re very-very good at it.
Bear River Health officials said they are more worried about people coming onto their property than they are about patients leaving.
Bear River Health is a voluntary treatment center.
This is not a locked unit. Patients are free to leave at any time but, company representatives said, the people in their programs have come to them of their own volition.
Charlevoix County Sheriff Chuck Vondra, who also attended the meeting, summarized his office’s feelings on Bear River Health.
“I think it’s a well-run organization at Walloon,” he said. “I would expect this would be the same. It’s not without some minor incidents but I would say that’s nothing that we don’t handle in short order if we need to. And they are minor in detail.”
Vondra added, “From what we’ve dealt with, I would say this is not a huge crisis or issue for the village.”
For more info on Bear River Health, go to bearriverhealth.com.