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News & Views - Feb, 2001 Issue #78

Two Views of Willow Springs Treatment Center
Two Heads Are Better Than One
Reno, Nevada 

Personal Perspectives From Two Moms Who Each Enrolled Their Child 
Elaine Rising (in collaboration with Sue B
Spokane, WA

While both Sue B and I have never been formally introduced, we have gotten to know each other via Lon Woodbury’s parent chat room service. In October, my husband and I wanted to learn more about a residential treatment facility that our insurance carrier was recommending for our son. Based on Sue B’s response to my query, we made the tentative decision to place him in Willow Springs Treatment Center. What follows are our opinions about the physical aspects of the facility, our impressions about their staff and program, and observations and/or interactions we had with the other children/adolescents. 

Part I – Sue’s View 

My first impression of Willow Springs RTC was favorable. The exterior was clean, neat, and well maintained. It is conveniently located close to the Reno Airport for those parents who must fly in. 

My health insurance had offered Willow Springs RTC as a potential placement for my 16-year-old daughter following an acute care hospital stay. The quality of facilities and staffing were a breath of fresh air compared to the acute care facility. When I walked through the front doors, I first noticed that there was no unfavorable, institutional odor inside the facility. It smelled and looked clean. 

The admitting nurse provided me with the full tour. First, we walked through a locked door and then down the school corridor featuring multiple classrooms. Willow Springs offers a partial school program through their onsite private school called Truckee Meadows. Classrooms appeared organized and clean with work samples displayed on bulletin boards. 

Then we headed to the cafeteria. In addition to its cleanliness, I was impressed with a large, wall-sized, Seurat pointillism mural, which the staff and children had painted. I asked a group of teenage patients how they liked the food; they all replied it was good. This was later confirmed by my daughter. 

We went through another set of locked doors to the adolescent unit. Along the way, the nurse pointed out the laundry room where the teens do their own laundry each week. I also observed the time-out room briefly before heading to the nurse’s station and the large, adolescent recreation room. 

The recreation room is large enough to hold a billiard table, ping-pong table, television and many groupings of chairs. It looks out onto an outdoor recreation area and a ropes course. The boys’ hallway and rooms and the girls’ hallway and rooms are located on opposite sides of the recreation room. I was told they keep the adolescent boys and girls separated as much as possible so that they can focus on their own individual programs rather than on each other. 

My tour continued down the adolescent girls’ hall wing. I observed several bedrooms; they have space for one or two girls per room with a private bathroom. The girls’ wing also held a smaller, more intimate recreation room with a snack area. Again, the facility appeared clean and well organized. 

The friendly nurse answered all my questions. I asked what was their staff turnover rate, and she said it was low. I did ask several staff members how long they had been there and their reply indicated that the average length of employment was 5 years. 

Since my husband and I decided to place our daughter at Willow Springs a few months ago, we have had an opportunity to work very closely with the staff during our weekly visits. Our daughter has benefited from their program and later thanked us for placing her there. We would not hesitate to recommend Willow Springs RTC to other parents of struggling teens with a PTSD diagnosis and depression or other psychiatric disorders including dual diagnosis. Willow Springs was able to effectively treat our daughter and keep her safe while she was working their program. 

Part II – Elaine’s View

First Impressions 

I was surprised how close it was to the Reno airport (approximately 10 minutes travel time.) As a courtesy, the facility offers a taxi service to and from the airport at no cost to the family. The facility is directly off a main thoroughfare. Based upon the pictures included in the application packet, I thought the facility was located in a rural setting. One of the pictures showed the backyard and their adventure challenge course for adolescents, which gave the appearance of open space. When I was given an initial tour of the facility, I did not see that area. 

On the positive side, the premises did not have an antiseptic smell that is common in many hospitalized settings. I visited the classroom area, pediatric area, cafeteria, and activity rooms. The walls had been decorated with hand prints and the resident’s artwork, which gave the place a very bright, human feel. While there were no barred windows (which gave an airy, open feel to the facility), I quickly sensed the staff’s tight control over the residents’ movements. To get to any room off the main corridor, a staff person had to be called to open it. Signs reminded visitors not to open the secured, main doorway when students were passing in the halls (as a deterrent for runaways). 


Overall, the facility was very clean. Walls, floors, and tables were shiny and free of grime, and the bedroom areas were generally well picked up. I did notice that some games in the activity room had not been fully tidied-up. Obviously, the children do get to play with the games and other manipulatives (rather than just being show pieces.) However, it made me wonder who was responsible for leaving this little mess. 

Staff Professionalism 

I was impressed with the staff’s level of knowledge and compassion for their patients. Many had been working there for several years and many showed a genuine commitment to wanting to help these children overcome their emotional/behavioral difficulties. I regularly call and speak to the staff person on duty. They are always cheerful, helpful, and give me a run down on my son’s daily progress (or lack thereof). 

Evidently, the entire staff (including tech and support personnel) communicate with one another concerning certain, behavioral expectations. For example, the cook in the cafeteria wouldn’t allow one young child to take a second dessert because he saw the child throw out the first one. 

Cafeteria & Menu Several tables were arranged in the cafeteria area.

Some were for small; others were for larger groups. The adolescent and pediatric groups ate separately. The menu offered a wide variety of food, which was very tasty. On the third visit, the menu included a salad bar, Swedish meatballs with noodles and carrots.

It is important to note that food is never withheld. If a student is particularly uncooperative, a cold meal may be substituted on occasion.

Student Population and Interactions 

Approximately eight children can reside in the pediatric unit simultaneously. The number does vary depending on each individual’s progress. On my second visit, I noted the children lining up nicely in the cafeteria and caught a couple of smiles on their faces. They seemed very comfortable in their surroundings. During my third visit, I observed two boys (roommates I presume) playing appropriately in their room, a game with two action figures. It left me with the impression that they felt comfortable and safe with their staff, caregivers, and therapists. 

Not all interactions are pleasant or positive. During my first visit, I observed some adolescents leaving the school area. An older boy began cursing a teacher and the other classmates joined in. The teacher dispassionately awarded negative points as another staff member supervised their return o their residential wing. 

During my third visit, a child went out-of-control in the pediatric wing and began to tear down and break anything he could get a hold of. Within a minute, he was contained and transported to their acute hospital facility. All the other residents returned to their quarters and they all had to process their thoughts and feelings about the other child’s behavior and how it impacted their safety. The pediatric wing also has a quiet room for children that are mildly out-of-control which is monitored by a hidden camera. 

All behaviors (positive and negative) are assigned points. Willow Springs has a detailed point system, which translates into levels. Based upon a child’s level, certain privileges are earned or taken away. In addition, daily positive peer therapy effectively provides feedback when a child’s behavior is too negative. This procedure works well if the child comprehends cause and effect relationships and can be motivated by extrinsic rewards. 


Overall, I found the facility and its staff very professional and caring. Willow Springs offered a very structured environment that allows children to see direct consequences of their choices. Their staff is very committed to helping the children overcome their individual issues and experience some success through better and/or healthier behavioral choices. 

This article copyright © 1999-2001, 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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