Twenty years ago, when Randy Pattee’s son Emmett was diagnosed with autism, he and his wife knew that the then-2-year-old needed treatment as soon as possible. But they were frustrated when they learned that it would be months before they could get an appointment with a physician who specialized in his condition.
“We were told that early treatment is the best thing for our child, so it was hard to hear that there’s a disturbingly long waiting list of six to nine months to get appropriate treatment started,” Pattee recalled. The couple persisted, and eventually managed to get an earlier appointment at Fraser, Minnesota’s largest provider of autism services, “through sheer volume of calls,” but they left the experience feeling concerned for others.
“No family should have to wait that long for services,” Pattee said.
One of the reasons for the long waits, the family learned, was the rising number of autism diagnoses in the state. Another reason for the delay? Not enough treatment facilities to serve children and families in need of services.
Because he wanted to help other families get the treatment they needed, Randy Pattee began volunteering on Fraser’s housing committee when his son was still young. Six years ago, he joined the 80-year-old organization’s board of directors, where he now serves as chair.
While services have expanded for young people like Emmett, many of same barriers that his family faced two decades ago still remain, Pattee said.
“We continue to have a waiting list. It is a constant source of frustration for families and board members and Fraser. We’d all be thrilled if there was no need to treat autistic kids because there was no autism. But it ain’t working that way. So, as an organization, we continue to do everything we can to increase access and expand treatment options.”
This week, Fraser will make a move to ease some of those concerns when it breaks ground in Woodbury on what will be the organization’s seventh mental health clinic and first-ever east-metro location. Fraser Woodbury will begin serving clients in 2018, offering comprehensive autism and mental health evaluations, diagnostic and treatment services, autism and mental health day treatment, case management, applied behavioral analysis, and pediatric therapy services. As many as 1,000 children and families will be served in the clinic’s first year.
Services within reach
Jan Luker, Fraser executive vice president and COO, said that the Woodbury expansion is part of her organization’s long-term goal of offering mental health care to as many children and families as possible.
“When we started in this business many years ago, the incidence of autism was 1 in 10,000,” she said. “Now it is 1 in 68. There is a high demand for a provider like Fraser who understands autism and children’s mental health as well as the family dynamics that go along with serving children with special needs. We really feel that all families should have access to services that can support them, so we are continuing to expand our capacity to serve families.”
Even with increased treatment options, the need for more services remains. Pattee said: “Every time we’ve opened a facility the waiting list has filled up immediately.”
Luker explained that the Woodbury expansion is part of Fraser’s “35/35” vision, which works to meet the organization’s long-term goal that no family in the state should have to travel more than 35 miles or 35 minutes to have their child treated at a Fraser-run facility.
Though families are willing to travel long distances for high-quality services, Luker explained that long journeys for regular treatment can be a hardship — especially for children with autism or other mental health concerns.
“Many of these kids do not travel well,” she said. “We want to provide easier access for families and less travel time. The closer we can come to people, the easier it will for them to access us.”
The Woodbury clinic will offer convenient treatment options for families in Ramsey and Washington counties, Pattee said: “We’ve been eager to get across the river for quite a while.”
Help for others
Pattee said that his family’s two-decade-long journey with autism services has expanded his own capacity for empathy. He fully supports the organization’s expansion plans because he wants others to have access to the services that have helped Emmett thrive.
Emmett’s autism is severe. He’s had treatment at Fraser since he was toddler, and when he was 7 years old, he moved into a Fraser-run group home. He’s been living there ever since. He’s now 22.
The group home was a good option for Emmett and the rest of the family, Pattee said. “He grew up with other people his age in the Fraser group home. It’s a great spot for him. He’s comfortable there. It’s his home. They give him the 24-hour care he needs. We can visit him any time, and he’s happy. It is a great place for him to live.”
Because he’s watched his own son build a successful life, Pattee wants do to what he can to make sure those same treatment options are available to others.
“We at Fraser are eager to get more spaces for treatment available for children and families,” Pattee said. “For those of us who have children who’ve lived through it, we know what it feels like to get that tough diagnosis and then to have to wait or have to travel long distances to get care. We want to improve families’ lives, and this is one way we know how to do that.”