Wellness Community improves lives, saves money

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

March 14, 2014 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated March 13, 2014 at 10:14 p.m.

A rendering from May 2013 shows  what the  Gulf Bend Wellness Community will look like. The project already has received some public and private funding and is expected to be complete in about two years.

A rendering from May 2013 shows what the Gulf Bend Wellness Community will look like. The project already has received some public and private funding and is expected to be complete in about two years.

Dennis Simms, 54, began his rapport with Gulf Bend Center in Victoria as a patient when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia 23 years ago.

"Once change takes place, it's so important that it continues, and patients don't relapse," Simms said. "I could have been a better person sooner with support from a Wellness Community."

On Feb. 25, Gulf Bend Center broke ground on its 20,000-square-foot, 34-unit transitional apartment living community at 1103 Nimitz St.

In September, Simms became the center's first state-certified peer support specialist, a part-time staff position. He also has conducted group therapy sessions as a Wellness Recovery Action Plan facilitator.

"For a long time, I had a tough time communicating with my family and others," Simms said. "I became so tired of the arguments and the resentments that I decided to try something new."

His recovery began at that moment.

Simms learned to communicate with kinder words in more diplomatic ways.

"It's like changing the frequency," he said. "I changed the way I communicated and the way I related to others."

With recovery came Simms' ability to support other patients, first as a volunteer and then as an employee.

"I share my story and let them know there is so much more to look forward to," Simms said. "They see me, and they see where they need to go."

Qualified mental health care professionals will provide around-the-clock care for residents of the Wellness Community.

The complex will facilitate integrated care by offering easier access to health care providers who treat patients with co-occurring chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Providing a continuum of care will eliminate unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital readmissions, which will save health care dollars, said Don Polzin, executive director of Gulf Bend Center.

"We've seen amazing things happen when the community comes together around the table," Polzin said. "There is no question that we are doing the Lord's work when we help our fellow man."

The duration of stays in the Wellness Community will vary depending on patients' needs. They will range from a few days to a few years.

Residents will come and go freely, and the staff will continue its efforts to add a bus stop nearby.

The community garden located in the courtyard of the transitional apartment complex will offer residents the opportunity to get their hands in the dirt as part of the therapeutic process.

Apartment units, which include one bedroom, one bathroom, a kitchenette and a living area, will rent for $650 per month, including utilities. Woolson Real Estate will help lease and manage the property.

"This is a dream come true," Polzin said. "We have needed this transitional housing for a long time."

Gulf Bend Center has raised $1.5 million and needs to raise an additional $2 million for the construction project.

"This year, the center is turning to the community for help," Polzin said. "We hope to use private dollars rather than public funds."

The Ralph and Beall Emmord Family Trust donated $750,000 to Gulf Bend Center, which was applied entirely to the Wellness Community.

The city of Victoria donated $450,000 through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant program.

Under the leadership of Robert Halepaska, the M.G. and Lillie A. Johnson Foundation contributed $250,000 to the project.

The Meadows Foundation in Dallas gave $250,000 to make the community a reality.

Local H-E-B managers Mike Greenly and Doug Wallace helped secure $100,000 from the grocery chain.

Among other contributors, Wells Fargo donated $10,000, and Woolson Real Estate Company contributed $3,500.

The Wellness Community is expected to open in spring 2015.

Communication between Crossroads residents and the mentally ill community needs improvement, Simms said.

"We are all citizens of the world, and we're supposed to care for each other," he said. "To solve problems, people need to be more involved."

Everyone has potential, he added.

"We might come across as strange or out of place, but people shouldn't be alarmed," Simms said. "We want to be part of the community, and we want to be productive."



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