Robert Faltermeyer was on the job at Excelsior Youth Center in north Spokane when major changes arrived in the system of caring for youth with behavioral health problems.
The head of the center for 34 years, Faltermeyer is retiring at the end of February as CEO.
He guided major changes that saw the integration of behavioral care, health care, social services, residential care and education with a goal of getting young people returned to their families or living independently as young adults.
Faltermeyer, 66, had inherited a small group home in 1982 that was operated historically by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.
The sisters had built the existing Excelsior facility on Indian Trail Road in 1960 and cared for about a dozen girls, ages 13 to 18.
Under Faltermeyer, the youth center grew to treating 70 clients in the 1980s and to about 100 clients today from ages 10 to 21. About half of them live as residents and the other half attend the center for outpatient services.
“He has been at the table for the evolution of the system of care,” said Ryan Kiely, vice president of program operations at the center.
Andrew Hill, the incoming CEO, said Excelsior serves some of the most difficult cases in Spokane. “This is really important in our community,” Hill said.
During an interview last week, Faltermeyer said some of the children have had up to four dozen separate contacts with criminal justice, health care and social service agencies.
The one thread linking the young people is trauma and loss. Many are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance abuse is common.
“The best way to explain it is loss,” Faltermeyer said. “Think about a kid with multiple losses.”
“The whole goal is to give them time to refocus and get to a least restrictive environment and create their own plan on how to be successful,” he said.
Faltermeyer said part of the focus involves teaching skills for coping with anxiety or other behavioral crises.
“The alternative is you bounce kids from one system to the next system to the next system,” Faltermeyer said.
What makes Excelsior work is the collaboration of people working in different disciplines and social services in Spokane.
Excelsior is the only treatment center in the state to have its own accredited middle and high school education programs in conjunction with Spokane Public Schools.
Excelsior contracts with state and regional government agencies for a large share of its program funding. United Way provides financial support as well.
It has two psychiatric nurse practitioners on site.
Local taxpayers are contributing through a portion of a 0.1 percent sales tax for mental health care countywide.
University students studying behavioral health and social services help out at the center as part of their post-secondary education.
The center has an arrangement for care through Washington State University’s nursing program.
Faltermeyer said a key to Excelsior’s success is the staff.
“The energy and commitment from the staff is No. 1,” he said.
“No. 2, I really believe what we do is our mission of connecting kids to their futures.”
Born and raised in Helena, Faltermeyer graduated from Gonzaga University in 1972.
He became committed to child welfare after working with youth at a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs school in South Dakota.
Faltermeyer became one of the leaders in Spokane in advocating for collaboration in serving troubled youth.
He served as president of the state Children’s Alliance in 1992-93 and was president of the National Association of Homes and Services for Children in 1991-93.
Some of the most difficult periods came in the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2008 when funding was cut. Faltermeyer was forced to reduce programs and laid off 28 staff members, or 30 percent of the workforce.
A current shortage of behavioral health caregivers in Spokane presents another obstacle for treating children, he said.
As Excelsior funding has been restored, there has been a trend to help children transition out of the state foster care system at age 18 to living independently. Care might last until age 22.
Another trend has been to offer respite periods by bringing outpatient youth to the center on evenings or weekends so that parents can have a breather and to help them keep their lives in order.
The center has two full-time workers who keep track of grant applications and reporting requirements.
That has resulted in a 95 to 97 percent compliance rate, which is considered excellent in the field, Hill said.
The center is under inspection probably 30 working days a year, Faltermeyer said.
But independent peer review is not feared. It is viewed as an opportunity to learn and improve, he said.
Over the years, Faltermeyer said he has learned two things. “I’ve learned to have faith in myself, and I’ve learned to have faith in the people around me.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.