Dayton mental health agency has national impact

Patients come from Columbus, Tennessee, Idaho, beyond‘We want the kids to feel safe.’


One of Ohio’s largest mental health care agencies, based in Dayton, has quietly expanded its footprint while serving clients from as far away as Idaho.

Eastway Behavioral Health Services serves more than 10,000 clients and families a year, people shouldering mental health issues or abuse. With 22 facilities, its latest acquisition is the 36,000-square-foot former Hannah Neil Center in Columbus, a nearly $3 million investment.

Capital Health Services Inc. bought the center from former owner Starr Commonwealth, a Michigan non-profit. Then Eastway purchased the center from Capital Health in December 2015 for about the same amount.

Acquisition of the 40-bed center firms up Eastway’s presence in the 29-county area it serves. But patients are drawn from across the nation — including Idaho, Tennessee and beyond — because the agency is unique, says John Strahm, Eastway president and chief executive.

“We are developing a national catchment area because of the significance of this program,” Strahm said.

Like all viable-profit agencies, Eastway operates like a business. Its model includes running apartments in Trotwood and an office building in Englewood.

The agency’s balance sheet shows that Eastway saw profit of $622,000 on total revenues of nearly $21.9 million in 2015, up from profit of $447,000 in 2014 on total revenues in that year of nearly $19.9 million.

But something more fundamental than a profit-loss statement fuels Eastway, Strahm said.

“Our business model is that we really care about what we’re doing,” he said.

Even before the Hannah Neil acquisition, there was a strong Eastway-Columbus connection. Though Columbus is by far larger than Dayton — some 836,000 residents compared to about 140,000 — Franklin County residents have sent children to Eastway residential centers in the Dayton area for 20 years.

“They feel that Eastway has something special, so they want to come to us,” said Leslie Brose, Eastway director of care management and compliance.

Two years ago, Hannah Neil closed, leaving what Strahm called a “huge hole in the system.” Strahm and Krystal Burke, Eastway vice president and corporate secretary, visited the 22-acre property.

“We saw this, inside the beltway of Columbus. Twenty-two acres. Beautiful property,” Strahm said.

Eastway serves clients as young as four to end-of-life, Strahm said. Facilities offer outpatient or inpatient services, including the Northcutt residential treatment center in Dayton, which serves boys ages five to 16, said Cybil Saum-Johnson, Eastway chief operating officer.

Boys live at Northcutt, usually from nine months to a year or more.

What kind of problems drive them there? Strahm and others point to growing heroin and drug abuse in families in Dayton and elsewhere.

“All of those kids have been the victims of horrific abuse, so they all have a really significant trauma history,” Saum-Johnson said.

A key at Northcutt — a center which opened in June 2014 — is showing that some adults can be trusted. A visit to Northcutt shows nothing staid or “institutional” about the facility. Rooms are brightly painted, with toys plentiful but well-kept. One area has a large-screen TV and an Xbox console. A fenced back play area offers a playground, a basketball court and plenty of room to run.

Staff is concerned about discharge from the first day boys move in, Saum-Johnson said. After a few months at Northcutt, however, boys sometimes grow attached to the center and don’t want to leave, which staff say is evidence of the care they receive there.

“I don’t want them to leave either,” said a smiling Rochele Burnette, Northcutt director.

Another residential option is the 22-acre Ranch of Opportunity, a haven for teen girls in Washington Court House.

And yes, there are horses at the ranch. None of that is accidental, Strahm said.

“We really emphasize this, because we’re working with kids, and we’re working with families,” he said. “Not only do they have to feel safe, but they can’t feel like they’re institutionalized. We concentrate very heavily on the environment.”

Eastway staff did not allow interviews of children or permit photographs of them at play or study during a tour of Northcutt last week. But one young man at Northcutt approached a visitor and politely introduced himself.

Eastway staff said many of the children who come to Eastway facilities have been through other kinds of centers.

“Many of them have been to several other places before they came to us, and they don’t believe what they see,” Strahm said. “We want the kids to feel safe.”


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