When Mike Markus started working at Frontier Behavioral Health, his first impression of the building wasn’t great.
With plexiglass in front of the waiting room desk and dated carpets, the office was “like a 1970s California DMV,” he said.
Markus, the director of elder services, pushed for a remodel. Shortly after the $2 million project was approved, the ceiling in his office collapsed.
“They had already decided to do it,” he said, but that didn’t hurt.
After a year of renovations, the Hillyard office has been transformed with new carpets, more space, an expanded parking lot and a roof that’s not collapsing.
The building houses the agency’s elder services, including counseling for seniors, support programs for caregivers and a volunteer program to drive people who can’t use public transit to medical appointments.
It’s named the Rashcko building after the agency’s first director of elder services, Ray Raschko, who pioneered a “gatekeeper” program to reach out to seniors.
Staff trained firefighters, police officers, utility workers and others who were likely to encounter seniors to call the agency if they found someone who might need help, whether with health concerns, declining awareness or grocery shopping. Based on that referral, elder services staff would send a caseworker to the home.
That program was credited with dropping the elder suicide rate in Spokane County from 27 per 100,000 people to 16 per 100,000, the lowest rate in the state, according to a 1993 Seattle Times article.
Elder services has grown since then and now serves about 600 people across a number of programs.
To meet that demand, staff at the Raschko Building now have 2,500 additional feet of space to support a growing number of clients. The front door has an awning shielding the walkway from bad weather, making an easy drop-off point for clients who use Paratransit.
“It’s just a boost for everybody,” said Linda McGrath, an elder services supervisor.
The remodel is part of a larger push by Frontier to invest in some of Spokane’s high-need areas. The organization broke ground last December on a new outpatient facility on East Sprague Avenue.
Hillyard is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington. The area bounded by Wellesley Avenue, Greene Street, Francis Avenue and Crestline Street has a median household income of just $35,101 and a 30 percent poverty rate, almost double the county average, according to 2015 Census data.
“We saw that as an opportunity to make a significant investment, not only in our clients and our staff, but in that neighborhood,” said Jeff Thomas, CEO of Frontier.
One piece of the remodel is yet to be complete. A 5,000-square-foot vacant lot behind the building will be transformed into a theraputic garden, a space for people to sit during group or individual therapy and reflect.
It will be named for Pam Sloan, who served as director of elder services before Markus. The garden should be completed next spring.
The clients McGrath serves, who are older than 55, often have different needs than many of Frontier’s younger patients. Whereas younger people may have a lifelong chronic mental illness they’re learning to manage, many seniors have never struggled with mental health before.
As people age, they’re more likely to have lost people close to them or experienced other traumatic events. Declining physical health and isolation can also contribute.
“We see a lot of people with depression for the first time in their lives,” she said. Reaching them isn’t always easy, especially for older clients who grew up during the Great Depression and World War II.
“They’re very stoic and very proud,” she said.
McGrath hopes the garden will give clients a place to be peaceful. The plans aren’t finalized, but they’ve discussed putting in fruit trees so seniors can take fresh produce home, as well as having flowers and other plants grown mostly for their beauty.
“That’s going to be such a boost,” she said.
This article has been updated to correct Mike Markus’ title in a photo caption.
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