Archive for July, 2011

While nobody was paying attention Prodigal House closed their door’s this spring…after 37 years.

July 1, 2011

What’s Prodigal House you ask?  It’s a shame you don’t know.  Prodigal House was a 45 bed residential recovery services program and companion 45 bed residential transitional living program called Heilman House – located on the grounds of the Minnesota VA Home — across the river from the Highland Ford Plant. It was started during the Vietnam War era to help Vets who came home with trauma filled minds and serious drug and alcohol addictions. 

Profoundly serious.  The mix of chemicals and alcohol and prescription drugs being taken by returning Vietnam warriors was unimaginable and unprecedented. Prodigal House was a huge deal for guys who came back into a world they could barely tolerate — let alone productively survive in. 

Prodigal House was started by a group of medical and psychiatric professionals and a group of passionate recovering addicts — who were looking for treatment options that worked for the new generation of addictive substances and addicts.  Their first venture to serve this rapidly growing population was Eden House. Prodigal House sprang from the brow of Eden House founders who determined that returning Vietnam vets really needed to have a separate treatment facility. Prodigal House was exclusively for veterans. Eden House was developed to serve the broader public…which it still does.

Prodigal House was hugely successful in the early years.  Guys came in pretty destroyed — played recovery hard ball – and got better — and went on to productive lives.  This was dead serious treatment.  Life and death treatment.  And Prodigal House, which never operated on anything beyond minimum State and County per diem funding, flourished. As the Vietnam era veteran client base started to dwindle below sustaining operating cost levels, Prodigal House absorbed referrals from County Court system who were trying to keep recently released felons who found themselves back in front of the courts with alcohol and drug related offenses, from being sent back in jail.  Both populations needed structure and rules…and the safety and consistency of a tightly controlled residential community environment where serious recovery business remained the central focus.  People came in, got better — and had enough time and got enough positive reinforcement to make sobriety, and indeed recovery in the broader sense, sustainable. 

Things started changing during the early/mid 2000s.  One could argue that the changes were necessary to manage the huge administrative and financial burden that had grown around the health and human services provider systems – and one could argue that the shifting priorities of needs and populations forced necessary changes to the recovery services industry – but the sad fact of the matter was, that Prodigal House and similar residential service providers were rapidly becoming obsolete.  Completely needed and necessary…but obsolete.  Replaced by lower cost out-patient programs where recovery services became “treatment modules” that were part of a larger MI programs (mental illness)…or later, a subset part of a Homeless program structured to get mounting populations of homeless folks stabilized and off the streets.  Prodigal House type recovery centered programs (residential and exclusively alcohol and chem/dep focused) essentially became subsumed by bigger issues and smaller budgets trying to do more than the funding could cover.

The mid/late 2000s were particularly hard on the residential recovery services industry.  Adoption of costly compliance and administrative mandatories and billing system changes in virtually every aspect of the business increased operating costs and paper work…and gobbled precious cash reserves and cash flow. This combined with adoption of new patient’s rights and self-directed treatment policies — made trying to operate consistent and efficient treatment programs that delivered a proven treatment system to a broad spectrum of clients, almost impossible. 

But somehow Prodigal House managed to stay alive (just barely) and able to fulfill its mission and commitment to its recovery service clients…most of whom were there because they wanted to get better and knew that this was their absolute ”last chance”.

Well, Prodigal House and its long term transitional living center companion, Heilman House…the “last chance recovery services treatment program” — is no more.  We lost our lease.  We lost our building to our greatest benefactor.  The VA — who decided that a better use of the building will be to provide long term residential housing for young returning veterans with profound long term injuries.  Who can possibly argue with that?

So, it is with huge humility and gratitude for all who made Prodigal House possible in the first place — and who gave chunks of their souls to preserve the mission — and keep things going, no matter what – that we announce that Prodigal House – located on the most sacred piece of real estate in Minnesota – who treated 17,000 clients over 37 years — who will say that Prodigal House provided the most important personal life altering human service in Minnesota — filed its final dissolution papers with the Attorney General and Minnesota State Department this morning

Joseph Burke

Prodigal House Inc.

Board Chairman

June 30, 2011