RRHS closes amidst investigation

 

Rum River Health Services, the Princeton nonprofit established more than 25 years ago to provide community health services including chemical dependency treatment, ceased operating on Sept. 20, with the state agency overseeing it investigating RRHS for its license-requirements compliance.

A note on the doors of both the RRHS office and at RRHS’s new community health clinic was the only notice that RRHS is no longer operating.

A communications specialist with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, which licensed RRHS to provide chemical dependency treatment, responded to the Union-Eagle by email  that the DHS “has an open licensing investigation for Rum River Health Services.” The spokesperson also said the DHS has not taken any licensing action and would need documentation from RRHS verifying that it closed.

RRHS’s funding has included grants, donations, and insurance and private pay for providing chemical dependency treatment. RRHS’s chemical dependency clients numbered as many as 30 in recent years, according to current RRHS board member Gail Kulick.

Brenda Hoffman, a former longtime Princeton resident now living in Stillwater, founded RRHS and had been its executive director until she retired on June 30, 2009.

The RRHS board then hired Jeff Larson as executive director. Larson worked for many years as a chemical dependency counselor for RRHS and was still doing that when the RRHS board laid him off as RRHS was closing.

RRHS’s first year of operation as a nonprofit began in 1986 under the nonprofit umbrella of the Princeton Civic Betterment Club. RRHS gained its own nonprofit status the next year.

Kulick, an attorney who recently rejoined the RRHS board after a hiatus, said she had become the interim executive director just recently. Kulick said she had been hoping that an emergency grant would come through on Monday, Sept. 23, to keep RRHS going. But RRHS didn’t receive the grant.

RRHS had approximately 34 employees, according to Kulick. Some of the employees in the office had already been laid off this summer.

The Union-Eagle had contacted Kulick and Larson at the time of the earlier layoffs and asked them if the two had any significant concerns about the financial operation of RRHS. This was in light of an anonymous source having raised questions about it to the Union-Eagle. Neither Kulick nor Larson gave an indication of RRHS being in any shaky financial situation at that time.

Kulick, last week, said a former RRHS employee had misunderstood some financial numbers on the RRHS’s financial books and the misunderstanding led to the DHS overpaying RRHS for services RRHS had provided. She further stated that the DHS then decided not to pay RRHS money in advance of each quarter that RRHS would be operating. Without that funding in advance, RRHS couldn’t continue to operate, as it did not have sufficient money in its reserves, Kulick said.

Establishing Belle Haven   

One of the biggest initiatives by RRHS was its spearheading the establishment of the 17-unit Belle Haven townhome complex at 101 18th Ave. N. in early 2007. Belle Haven has been providing shelter for short-term and long-term homeless families in which a family member has gone through chemical dependency treatment.

Although RRHS provided support services to Belle Haven, the townhomes complex is managed by the Minneapolis nonprofit RS Eden, which is continuing to operate Belle Haven in the wake of RRHS’s closing, Kulick noted.

Another move that RRHS made recently was the purchase and remodeling of the former  home of First Love Fellowship Church on First Street near the Highway 169 overpass. The building, which sits near the entrance road to the far west entrance to the fairgrounds, had been vacant for some years when RRHS purchased it.

After getting a loan to pay for the extensive remodelling, RRHS opened it as a community health clinic nearly a year ago, and had it open for business one evening per week. RRHS offered the clinic services to low-income persons as well as those with insurance.

RRHS was also in the midst of setting up dental facilities in one end of the building for low-income persons. Local dentist Phil Lingle contributed many volunteer hours coordinating the planned set up of the dental office which was being stocked with donated dental equipment.

Local medical doctors, including Pete Jensen, who was also a charter member of the RRHS board, had donated many hours to staff the medical end of the community health clinic. Jensen was not available for comment this week.

One more facility

RRHS has also been contracting with a family in Princeton to rent the former Pine Aire Motel on Rum River Drive, just north of Princeton city limits. After the building’s extensive remodeling, RRHS has been renting the structure to provide residential units for men going through, or who have completed, chemical dependency treatment.

RRHS also had clients in another residential facility on a much smaller scale in Princeton.

Kulick said that the clients who were still receiving chemical dependency treatment from RRHS when it closed were taken over by agencies that provide those services.

RRHS’s mission statement was: “To identify and respond to community health needs.”

The community clinic was a “wonderful concept,” Kulick said.

Larson, reached for comment about the closing of RRHS, said: “It’s a very sad situation for me personally and for the community. We worked very hard in the last couple months to keep things moving forward, and it is a very difficult situation.”

Hoffman responds

Hoffman, who was in Princeton on Tuesday, responded in more than one way to the news of RRHS closing. At one point, she called it a “death in the family.”

But Hoffman, who recently became a deacon in the Episcopal Church, added, “But I do feel that a family always survives. We pick up the pieces and we move forward and always remember the positive things. If one child’s life was improved. If one woman’s life was saved. If one family was given resources that otherwise wouldn’t have or would have had to travel so far outside the community to get, then I don’t think that whatever RRHS served was in vain.

“It has been a community effort. A great number of people supported it over the years. Their support did not go for naught. We feel good about it. Good things came out of RRHS. The organization may be gone, but the needs the organization served are still there.

“I believe it behooves the community to pull together and find ways to meet the needs and to focus on how we can pull together and respond. I believe when we feed our neighbors, we feed our soul,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said she is disappointed by RRHS closing but that she also believes that “sometimes things happen for a reason.”

“I always try to find the positive and always look for what good can come out of it. I always believe we should trust in God for all things to get over the disappointments and joys. This is certainly the time to do that.”

up arrow