One year after celebrating its 25th anniversary, a local resource for people in recovery and those struggling with mental illness will close.
The Community Corner Clubhouse, which served more than 1,000 people, will shutter on Friday.
The planned closure of the Corner Clubhouse was announced in August by North Central Health Care and the North Central Community Services Program, citing a lack of funding. The NCHC and NCCSP said that Clubhouse has been partially funded by Marathon County tax levy during its 26 years of operation but is not a mandated program under Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) regulations.
Members of the Clubhouse and its staff say they were taken by surprise with the decision. The center served people from Marathon, Lincoln and Langlade counties.
“It’s proven, its evidence based, it’s needed,” said Mike Frankel, the outgoing manager at the Clubhouse. “It fulfilled a huge gap in this community.”
NCHC leaders, including its interim Executive Director Mort McBain and its Chief Medical Officer, Robert Gouthro, said it was not possible to run the Clubhouse as part of NCHC. Dr. Gouthro said the Clubhouse provided important services, but those needs should be “met through a program that’s not located at NCHC.”
The Clubhouse helped adults with persistent mental illness and those struggling with alcohol and other drug abuse challenges, according to information on the Facebook page of the organization. It provided members with a place where they could “meet friends, build self-confidence, learn valuable life skills and discover untapped talents.”
After the closure, the people who used services at the center will be able to use the Marathon County Literary Council premises for a temporary period if they wish to do so. Two of the three staff at Clubhouse, including its manager, have resigned and the third will continue to work at NCHC.
The closure decision hit hard for members who relied on the services at the center.
Rick Humphrey is one of them. The decision-makers were “closing down a program that is vital to many, many people,” Humphrey said, during an Oct. 5 meeting of the Marathon County Health and Human Services Committee. The meeting was attended by officials from NCHC and the Clubhouse. Humphrey is from Wood County but since he had lived in Marathon County previously, he was eligible to use Clubhouse services.
He tore into the decision to shut down services, saying the people served are human beings, not just numbers and dollars.
“And I feel sad and worried for those of you who didn’t come to make a decision of this weight to close, dismantle a program when you never even visited to find out what’s going on there,” he said, referring to a recent listening session at Clubhouse attended by some Marathon County supervisors. “And I worry about your decision-making abilities if you didn’t even bother to see what was going on there.”
The HHS Committee was discussing its Crisis Assessment Response Team, or CART, and the future of Community Corner Clubhouse, among other agenda items. CART is a collaboration between the Wausau Police Department, Marathon County Sheriff’s Office and NCHC. CART members, along with their crisis worker partners, help people of all ages in a mental health crisis and work to connect them with services.
Humphrey said that the cost to the community will be much higher since more people will be in crisis in the absence of resource centers like Clubhouse.
Supervisor Ron Covelli agreed with Humphrey’s remarks.
“It seems ironic that we are talking about helping people with mental illness but we are closing a facility that helps people with mental illness,” the supervisor said, referring to Clubhouse’s closure. “It’s a little disappointing to me that we are asking for more funds to help the CART program and not help the Community Corner Clubhouse.”
Wausau Mayor Katie Rosenberg, who attended the county committee meeting, said she was in favor of the expansion of the CART program and the continued operation of Clubhouse.
“I don’t want to tell you how to spend your money or what your priorities should be but I just want to say that I am emotionally invested in this Community Corner Clubhouse discussion too,” the mayor said. “And I’d hate for this discussion to turn into one vs. the other, because the reality is we need both.”
Supervisor Stacey Morache agreed that CART should expand but also wanted to discuss ways to keep Community Clubhouse running because it’s a program “that already has a track record of success.”
“If we are getting rid of that (Clubhouse), we are going to see more people in crisis,” Morache said. The community will possibly have additional users of CART in the absence of Clubhouse, she added.
Supervisor John Robinson and chair of the now defunct policing task force said they were there to discuss CART’s expansion into the evening hours and weekends and to have the active case management services that support CART members in helping those in crisis. The Clubhouse is a separate issue, Robinson said, and suggested that supervisors could raise the continuation of Clubhouse during budget discussion.
The County board today has not voted on Community Corner Clubhouse and its funding, said Robinson. “That’s a decision that will be made in the budget process and if you have different priorities that is the time to raise it.”
The administrator presented the budget to the Human Resources, Finance and Property Committee on Wednesday.
Could Clubhouse have been saved? Can it resume operation in another form?
Some feel the closure was not the only option.
Frankel, the manager at Clubhouse, told the HHS Committee on Oct. 5 that that a clubhouse, independent of NCHC, is indeed possible, a belief he shared with Wausau Pilot & Review during an interview. He also said he had offered to raise funds for Community Corner Clubhouse but felt the top brass at NCHC, including the board that oversees its function, had already made up their mind.
“My assumption is it was already decided that Clubhouse would be closed,” Frankel said. “The mindset appeared to be why bother raising money if it was going to close.”
Frankel served at Clubhouse for 22 years. His last day of employment at NCHC is Oct. 17, with plans to begin a new position elsewhere beginning Oct. 24. He said he had already locked up commitments from 20 people to serve on the board of a new clubhouse-like entity. But Frankel said he was compelled to seek new employment because of the uncertainty regarding Clubhouse’s future. He added that NCHC offered him a different position within the organization, an opportunity he declined.
Chief Medical Officer at NCHC, Dr. Gouthro, also seemed to be on board with the idea of a new Clubhouse, outside the aegis of NCHC.
Community members, Clubhouse users and staff also believe a new Clubhouse can operate.
“Clubhouse members and family need to have a voice,” one of the users of Clubhouse, Kelly Kaufman, wrote in a letter to the editor of this newspaper. “Most members and family want to help keep the doors open by fundraising, given half the chance.”
Additionally, some residents in the county are already suggesting alternatives to the shuttered resource center “if residents of this community pull together, put their ideas together, fund-raise, and create a new clubhouse. The staff at Community Corner Clubhouse are considering this potential.”