Eastway Behavioral Healthcare expands to fill unmet need in Columbus

Several years ago, John Strahm, president and CEO of Dayton-based Eastway Behavioral Healthcare, noticed a trend.

Eastway opened its first residential program for teenage girls who’ve experienced trauma in 2012. Of the 24 girls who were referred, more than half were from Columbus. The same thing happened when it opened a residential treatment center for elementary school-aged boys a year later.


Photos by Kyle Widder, kdwPhoto

Eastway is the largest provider of behavioral health services in Montgomery County. It provides all levels of care to over 2,400 adults and 500-600 kids a year.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_ranchNow, Eastway was committing to Columbus children and families.

“We have a commitment when their kids step down from residential, we need to literally take them by the hand all the way back to either home or whatever their after-case place is,” Strahm says.

When you go from a very structured residential setting back to where you came from with all the challenges that represents, the transition requires assistance, he says.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_cowSo, as the not-for-profit looked for space in Franklin County to offer outpatient services or possibly a day treatment program, people kept telling Strahm that he needed to see a south side facility that had closed several years ago. It was 36,000 square feet and on 22 acres.

Perhaps Eastway needed to do more than step-down services in Columbus.

“As we met with other potential partners, including children’s services, there was a huge need,” he says.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_starwarsPlugging a gap

Eastway looked for a reason not to expand, Strahm says, but the opportunity was too much to pass up because the need was so great.

At the end of 2015, Eastway bought the Starr Columbus Hannah Neil Center, formerly the Hannah Neil Center for Children.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_aliensTo keep the legacy of Hannah Neil, a 19th-century community activist and philanthropist, the facility was renamed The Heritage of Hannah Neil.

The official ribbon cutting for the residential program was last month, and the outpatient and day treatment programs have been filling up, as Eastway already works with more than 100 kids and their families.

Strahm expects all resident beds to be full by spring. The target population, at the suggestion of children’s services, will be pre-adolescent girls and boys.

“We’re really excited. It’s a tremendous opportunity,” he says. “We’ve met with people from The Buckeye Ranch, Pomegranate Health Systems, the main providers, and they’ve got their arms open.”

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_lightsManage from afar

Eastway runs a tight financial ship, consistently returning enough money to reinvest and grow programs where services are needed. It doesn’t rely on fundraising to pay the rent.

Eastway also has experience with the challenges of a satellite office from its girls’ residential treatment center located 45 miles outside of Dayton.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_fishBut Columbus was an even bigger step in scope and distance. Eastway will go from $22 million in annual revenue to close to $30 million with its new Columbus services.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_british“The board of directors as well as management are continuing to work on what is the best organizational model to make sure that we are locally responsive to the needs of the people in Columbus — and we’re not trying to run it from Dayton, Ohio,” Strahm says.

That’s the biggest lesson Eastway took from visiting Michigan’s Starr Commonwealth to find out why it closed the same Columbus facility a few years ago. You can’t manage from a distance.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_games“You’ve got to take a look at how you’re organized. You can’t run a program when you’re not sure where the business is coming from, where the kids are coming from, where the need is,” Strahm says.

Corporate’s job should be to give support to the people on the ground, he says.

You didn’t do anything wrong

Eastway’s treatment philosophy is trauma-informed care — acknowledging what these children have been through. But it takes very special people to do that, especially in a residential setting.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_superheroesStrahm says more than 100 people will work at the Heritage of Hannah Neil, so Eastway looked for the right person to recruit and manage them. Executive Director Tom Standish fits that bill with more than 30 years of experience.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_birdCreating the right treatment environment not only comes from the people, but also the surroundings themselves. Strahm says it shouldn’t feel like a punishment.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_boat“When we opened up the little boys program in Dayton, one of the first kids, a five-year-old boy, walks up and the first thing he says to us is ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’” he says. “We know you didn’t. The basis of our treatment isn’t what did you do that we need to fix. It is what has been done to you that we need to help you heal from.”

Eastway has invested almost $4 million into opening up Heritage of Hannah Neil, including transforming it from institutional to kid-friendly.

col_bsc_eastwaybehavioral_1116_dogSometimes people tell Strahm that Eastway shouldn’t put so much into the environment because it will never last.

“Kids are people, too, and people live up to expectations,” he says. “I think they are really proud to be in a place that shows we care about them.”