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On the Front Lines: Excelsior staffer moves on campus to keep care consistent for in-patient residents

Samantha Quackenbush, care coordinator for Excelsior Wellness Center, is photographed in front on their new building in Spokane on Wednesday. She was an integral part of their switch to 24/7 care in response to demands of COVID-19. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Samantha Quackenbush works hard coordinating the in-patient care program at Excelsior Wellness Center, which offers behavioral health care for teens and young adults.

But that hard work rose to a new level when Quackenbush and nine other staff members at Excelsior committed to “hunker down” and live on campus with the residents amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“By being able to shelter in place with the participants, not only is it making the risk way less likely to bring coronavirus into our agency, but also it’s really nice for the kids to have people that they know and see on a daily basis there with them, supporting them, going through it with them,” Quackenbush said.

Excelsior’s 34-acre campus in North Spokane includes a school and a wellness center. An integrated care center is set to open later this year.

Quackenbush works to coordinate clients’ schedules to create a balance between treatment, education and fun.

“They live within a structured environment that is really focused on providing them with life skills,” Quackenbush said.

Quackenbush said she has always wanted to “work with at-risk youth.” While attending Eastern Washington University, a friend mentioned that Excelsior might be a good fit for Quackenbush. She started as a part-time staff member about four years ago and has worked her way into a more hands-on role.

When the coronavirus pandemic began spreading in Washington, small changes were made at Excelsior. Social distancing, extra cleaning, and converting most in-person appointments to telehealth appointments were all implemented relatively quickly.

After Gov. Jay Inslee issued his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, Excelsior decided the best way to reduce the risk of introducing the virus to patients was to have staff move into the facility.

“We kind of uprooted everything and moved in and committed to a month first, and then we’ll kind of go from there, depending on what the governor does,” Quackenbush said. “And we’re still sheltering in place.”

She worried the pandemic would affect residents’ progress, and she hoped volunteering to live on campus with them would make residents feel supported.

“I wanted to make sure that they have the support from people that they know, people they’re comfortable with to get through this time,” Quackenbush said.

It has been a challenge to come up with activities to fill the space left by canceled off-campus outings, Quackenbush said. But that challenge brought about a new understanding of how to help the young people with whom she works.

Residents have been taking hikes, learning to jump rope and playing ultimate Frisbee. With more time on campus, Quackenbush has been making time to just “be in the moment” with residents, which has brought increased participation.

“I think the best thing that has come from it is the amount of engagement we’re seeing,” Quackenbush said.

While giving up her home life to live at work has been a sacrifice, Quackenbush said it has affected her “in a really positive way.”

“I feel for these kids. They have had a lot of inconsistency in their lives and that has really impacted them,” Quackenbush said. “If I can do anything to make sure that they continue to have the progress that they’ve made … I want to be able to do that.”