Horse therapy academy to close; board blames 'broken' mental health system

Published: Jan. 9, 2018 at 11:05 AM CST
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After more than a decade of service, a Fox Valley creative therapy program is closing its doors.

CHAPS Academy in Shiocton, an equestrian therapy stable, is shutting down at the end of the month – saying operating costs are too high.

In a press conference on Tuesday, board members blame what they call a “broken” mental health care system.

“For 14 years, CHAPS Academy has worked tirelessly to provide life-saving care to more 25 hundred people. But despite our best efforts, we can no longer survive in this broken system,” says Mary Downs, Board President of CHAPS Academy.

It’s that “broken system” that CHAPS Academy board members say is the real reason behind the closure.

They say operating costs are just too high, without more support from commercial insurance.

“The gap between the services that we provide and the reimbursement that we receive, that reimbursement gap has averaged about 20 thousand dollars a month,” Downs says. “Which means that for a year, CHAPS would be required to raise about a quarter of a million dollars every year, to fill that gap.”

Even with regular donations, including a grant given just last month from the Green Bay Packers, employees say it’s just not enough to save CHAPS Academy.

This pattern is something they expect to see with other non-profits, too.

“Most mental health agencies, particularly these smaller ones, are dealing with these same set of issues,” Downs says.

Board members say over the past 14 years they’ve seen a lot of progress with their patients.

“Some have decreasing self-harm behavior, suicidal ideation,” says Kristin Lowe, Executive Director, CHAPS Academy. “Horses act as a mirror to our emotions. So when we're with the horses, if we're angry, if we're sad, the horse is going to act a certain way.”

From here, board members are working with their nearly 150 patients to find other therapy outlets for when the stable closes.

Rawhide Boys Ranch contacted Action 2 News to say it offers equine-assisted therapy as an outpatient program in New London through The Counseling Company by Rawhide.

CHAPS employees say the therapy horses will either go to startup equestrian therapy programs, or to donors who gave them to the stable.