Open and Shut 

As Franklin House struggles, Alamar Ranch considers a new application

The winds of fate appear to be blowing doors to mental health facilities in the area open and shut, leaving the welfare of clients increasingly up in the air. While Franklin House, a Boise outpatient facility, faces a possibly terminal financial crisis, Boise County residents have at least temporarily blocked the construction of a residential treatment center called Alamar Ranch.

Gina Westcott, program manager for Region IV adult and children behavioral health, told BW that Franklin House, a short-term intervention and treatment center, is facing closure as of April 1. Franklin House has been operated by St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center under a contract with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. But, Westcott said, its annual operating budget of $700,000 eats up nearly all her total funds, with little left over for other vital functions such as client legal advocacy, psychiatric services and medications, housing and transportation. The shortfall has been made up by other state regions. "It has run at their expense," Westcott explained, "and we can't continue that."

At least one former patient called it "a loss to the community."

Kathy Engleman, 33, suffers from bipolar disorder and has visited Franklin House several times.

"It was a nice alternative to the hospital, a relaxed atmosphere that took the pressure off my mental illness symptoms," Engleman said. "When I felt like I couldn't be alone because of my mental illness, they were able to provide medications and support."

A public meeting on the matter will be held on Friday, March 2 at 1:30 p.m. in the Pete Cenarussa building.

Meanwhile, Alamar Ranch, a proposed for-profit facility for the Idaho City area, has been put on temporary hold in the face of petitions and other legal actions taken by local residents.

"A lot of the problem is that there's so much misinformation out there. Trust us, we are not going to house any sexual predators or arsonists," said project director Amy Jeppesen. She said Boise-based developers Oaas Laney have spent considerable effort "trying to educate the folks out there as to the different types of [treatment centers.] We're not building a lock-down. We're specializing in students with no criminal history or anti-social or conduct disorders." Boise County, Jeppesen said, is a logical choice for the facility because its rural nature would be "a safe place for healing."

Opponents were elated by the news.

"The developer realized that their approach was half-baked and experimental at best," said Brian Bulow, spokesman for the citizens group No Alamar Ranch, which had organized formal opposition to Boise developer Oaas Laney. "When you plan on spending $15 million you better get your act together." He anticipates that the Alamar Ranch project will be resubmitted, perhaps for another property.

"If they are planning to come back anywhere in Boise County, we will be prepared to fight that," Bulow said. "We've already discussed this among ourselves."

Jeppesen denied that Oaas Laney's decision to postpone their plans was because of the No Alamar Ranch group.

"We felt strongly that we could go ahead and get a conditional use permit but we met and had a big debate among ourselves," Jeppesen said. "We thought it might be a win-win for everyone and that the county residents might feel better about it. We're definitely going forward with it."

"There's been a lot of fear and scare tactics to dissuade people against Alamar Ranch per se," Jeppesen said. "There's a lot of sensationalism. I don't know why they have dug in their heels so much against it but they have. People are a little resistant to change, but people were resistant to Osprey," the high-end subdivision in which Brian Bulow lives, "but was it a good thing for the community? Sure."

Jeppesen estimated that Oaas Laney will resubmit for a conditional use permit within 30 to 60 days.

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