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Opinion & Essays - Aug, 1996 Issue #41 

by: Mark Hobbins, Vice President, Aspen Health Services

(The following is a summary of a statement made by the Aspen Achievement Academy program, which runs a program in Utah, mailed to referring professionals in response to recent questions and concerns about the safety and effectiveness of “wilderness” programs.)  

We are hoping this information will support you in describing the safety features as you talk with parents regarding the recommendations you may be offering. 

1.)  The current Aspen approach is “soft”, compared to the in- your-face confrontational style typically associated with wilderness programs. We believe that the wilderness itself is enough of an impact to most students. The treatment philosophy employed at Aspen is one which focuses on internalization and self-motivation, rather than force or coercion.... 

2.)  Each student is given a full medical exam, as well as a drug screen, prior to entering the field. Each day student health concerns are addressed. Foot checks are done every morning and evening by field staff. First aid for cuts and scrapes is addressed whenever needed. A member of the medical team is in the field weekly, evaluating each student in each group to address situations before they become crises. If the student has a medical problem not treatable in the field, they are brought into the clinic or a nearby hospital for treatment.... We have 24 hour access to a R.N. and our Medical Director, Dr. K. Hooker.... 

3.)  All instructors are first aid and CPR certified, many have more extensive medical training. We also have an Emergency Response Team (“ERT”) that is available at any time to respond to an emergency situation, whatever it may be.... 

4.)  “Unit O” (a trained back-up person or field staff) stays out in the field 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a radio and a cellular phone in order to maintain constant communication with groups in the field.... 

5.)  Each group in the field has two radios and extra batteries. Groups are required to make contact with base or Unit O every day at 8:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.... 

6.)  Each group has a therapist responsible for that group. All therapists have a minimum of a Master’s degree.... Our Clinical Director is responsible for supervising the therapists and assisting in dealing with therapeutic issues that arise in the field. 

7.)  Staff change occurs weekly allowing refreshed personnel to handle the demanding effort required. Each team has 6 consistent members, 3 on each week and frequently there are 4 staff per week. 

8.)  A fresh “re- supply” of food is given to each group each week. The caloric demands of growing adolescents who are physically active are calculated by a dietitian.... 

9.)  Aspen field staff are hired only after a thorough evaluation which includes time on the trail and criminal background checks.... 

10.)  Every student is oriented to the grievance process before they are taken into the field.... 

11.)  Mail from students is brought in and mailed twice weekly. Mail is not read by Aspen staff unless requested by the student or the parents. 

Copyright © 1996, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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