Luther Hall nationally recognized for improving quality of life for youth in its residential program

FARGO, ND (Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019) – For the second time, Luther Hall, Fargo, was one of three juvenile programs in the nation to receive the prestigious Barbara Allen-Hagen Award for improving conditions of confinement and quality of life for youths in juvenile facilities.

The award is given by the Performance-based Standards Learning Institute, which offers a data-driven, research-based, continuous-improvement model that challenges staff at youth correction, detention, assessment and community residential agencies to treat all youths as one of their own.

Marisa Warren (second from left), Luther Hall case manager, and Kellam Barta (third from right), the facility's activity/volunteer coordinator, accepted the award on behalf of their colleagues at the recent awards ceremony in Boston.

Luther Hall, a 24/7 residential psychiatric treatment facility for youth ages 10-17, received top recognition in PbS’s Community Residential category, specifically for improving youths’ understanding of the rules and perceptions of fairness and safety in their program. Luther Hall also received this national award in 2016.

Janell Regimbal, vice president of Children’s Services at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, says that external evaluation and validation from an organization like PbS is vital, as it helps Luther Hall staff determine how the facility measures up against similar facilities across the country. More importantly, she adds, it consistently provides an internal driver of continuous improvement and monitoring of progress.

Staff sees positive change when residents feel safe, understand rules

"Residential work is very challenging," Regimbal says. "We take the responsibility of helping those children who come to live with us very seriously. Working together as a highly functioning team taking an individualized approach to the needs of kids in our care is of the highest priority. When this is done with care and compassion, as it should always be, not only will we as an organization and program prosper, but so also will those children we are fortunate to call our residents.”

The Luther Hall team created a Facility Improvement Plan in 2014 based on the hypothesis

that if residents understood the program rules, perceived them to be fair and felt safe, the overall facility would experience positive changes in areas such as staff turnover and unsuccessful early discharges.

They instituted new approaches to promote understanding, fairness and safety, ranging from an individualized treatment approach that produced a 360-degree view of each resident’s needs to partnering with outside agencies, such as the Fargo Police Department and Fargo Public Schools.

A specific example of this partnership included inviting Fargo Police Officer Michael Bloom to

routinely have lunch with Luther Hall residents. The arrangement helps build the kind of rapport that encourages residents to be more comfortable with police officers during escalated situations and to generally view law enforcement as a supportive presence during difficult times.

In the first year after instituting these changes, staff turnover dropped from 93 percent to 21 percent. In 2018, 100 percent of residents reported that they understood the program rules and 80 percent reported that the rules are fair.

Perhaps most significantly, Luther Hall has had no early, unsuccessful discharges for nearly 18 months. This length of time is practically unheard of in residential facilities of ANY type, Daniel says.

Individualized behavior plans, 360-degree view of each resident's life are essential part of treatment

Despite their status as two-time award winners, Luther Hall staff aren't content to rest on their laurels. Far from it.

"We never get complacent. We evolve and become stronger – we are in a constant state of assessment, decision-making and further assessment." – Luther Hall staff's application for the Barbara Allen-Hagen award.

"We plan to sustain these changes by continuing to foster our valuable relationships with outside agencies, by creating buy-in for staff, youths, and families, and through continued implementation of individualized behavior plans, aided by a new position at Luther Hall – Resident Skills Specialist – who provides individualized skills instruction to our residents in concert with our team approach," staff wrote in the application.

How do they create "buy-in" from staff themselves? It starts with weekly "Primacy meetings"

for team members, in which opinions are solicited from all team members to give a 360-degree view of each resident's situation. All team members have a voice, and staff are invested in outcomes of the individualized behavior plans being implemented.

Top photos: WDAY/Forum reporter Robin Huebner interviewed Luther Hall staff Bob Guertin and Ryan Daniel on the philosophy that has helped transform Luther Hall into a nationally renowned residential psychiatric facility for adolescents and teens. Bottom left: The boys' wing at Luther Hall. Bottom right: This poster in the staff conference room charts de-escalation techniques to use when a resident is acting out. The idea is to intervene and help the youth calm down before their behavior escalates to violence or risky behaviors.

Luther Hall residents are also included as part of the team through a monthly administrative-processing group that Luther Hall residents affectionately refer to as “Jr. Primacy.” During Jr. Primacy, each resident is given a voice, and their feedback is communicated to all Luther Hall team members.

PbS climate surveys provide an additional voice to our residents, as well as serving as crucial decision-making tool for the Luther Hall team. Resident buy-in is apparent at welcome groups for newcomers, when tenured residents frequently advise new residents not to bother running away because “they will always take you back.”

"We have been working hard, for five years, to make the Luther Hall program the best option around for kids who need of this level of care," says Ryan Daniel, team lead of residential services. "Every year, we dial in the elements that have proven successful and innovate new ways to meet the unique needs of the kids in North Dakota and Minnesota. Winning the Barbara Allen-Hagen Award in 2016 and again in 2019, means that we are on the right track. We feel we have work to be done and new ideas yet to be implemented. It is exciting to be surrounded by a team that shares a progress-minded approach and look forward to the evolution that is sure to continue over the next five years."

See a video about Luther Hall's change-making approach HERE.

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