March 5, 2008 in City

Neighbors complain about group homes

Erica F. Curless Staff writer

A local doctor has transformed several Hayden area houses, including actress Patty Duke’s former ranch, into group homes for troubled youth, leading some neighbors in the rural neighborhoods to complain they were never notified.

Innercept, operated by local child and adolescent psychiatrist George Ullrich, needed no approval by Kootenai County because each group home is serving fewer than eight residents. Those homes are already allowed under state law.

Ullrich and his wife, Jami Sturges Ullrich, applied in 2003 to open an “emotional growth” boarding school near Worley that would house 36 students. The proposed school was modeled after Rocky Mountain Academy, a CEDU emotional-growth school in Boundary County where George Ullrich had worked.

They withdrew their request after a county hearing examiner recommended against the permit amid outcry from more than 100 people in the farming community 20 miles south of Coeur d’Alene.

Jamie Sturges Ullrich said Tuesday that when the Worley proposal didn’t work out, the couple – along with clinicians from Northwest Psychiatric Associates – opted for smaller, individual group homes that are already allowed by Idaho law.

That was the birth of Innercept.

Sturges Ullrich declined to disclose how many group homes Innercept has or their locations, saying she wants to protect the students who range in age from 13 to 24. Yet she talked about homes on Maxwell Drive and Dodd Road. Neighbors also allege that there’s a home on Hudlow Road, near Garwood.

She confirmed that Innercept has a total capacity of 36 students. Innercept also operates a private school for the group home residents, on Ironwood Drive in Coeur d’Alene.

Innercept is marketed nationally and helps “anxious, depressed and gentle kids,” Sturges Ullrich said. The homes don’t accept violent children and instead focus on helping teens who have failed in traditional schools and have social problems such as a lack of friends or eating disorders, or who have been bullied or teased.

Yet neighbors on Maxwell Drive are unsure. They wrote a letter to George Ullrich Feb. 6 questioning why they were never notified of the business. The letter also notes alleged incidents of graffiti and peeping toms.

“You have disrupted a tight knit community in which dreams, peace and quietness have all been shattered,” the letter reads.

Joyce Fabianski, who lives near the group home, said she didn’t know who wrote the letter – it has no signature other than Maxwell Road “residents” – but she helped distribute it to neighbors.

“We’re all concerned,” she said. “We’re trying right now to get a big group of people together to get some sort of conversation going.”

Sturges Ullrich said the Maxwell Drive neighbors began complaining in January and that they invited them all to come tour the house and meet the residents. She said none accepted the offer.

She said that type of communication helped ease similar concerns by neighbors near the former Patty Duke property on Dodd Road, which is used in pictures for the Innercept brochure.

“We are very proud of the work we are doing,” Sturges Ullrich said. “It’s amazing. We are changing lives every day.”

Kootenai County Sheriff Capt. Ben Wolfinger said deputies have gotten only six calls since July in reference to Innercept homes on Maxwell Drive and Hudlow Road but other than a suicide threat, they were mostly minor matters. The other calls were for an unfounded missing person report, a dog running at large, traffic hazard and welfare check.

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