Program Spotlight: Intensive Residential Treatment Services (IRTS) at Chicago Avenue

May 30, 2024

The Intensive Residential Treatment Services (IRTS) program at Chicago Avenue was opened in October of 2023 after People Incorporated purchased the building from Hennepin Healthcare last May. This 13-bed program, which has been operational for seven months, stands out as People Incorporated’s first residential treatment facility with a completely trauma-informed design. From single-occupancy bedrooms with private bathrooms to indoor and outdoor spaces for gathering to wheelchair accessibility, the IRTS program at Chicago Avenue is paving the way for future standards of individualized mental health care.

One of the core elements of this program’s approach to trauma-informed care is providing each client with their own bedroom and bathroom. This seemingly simple feature is a significant departure from traditional residential treatment models and has been received exceptionally well by Chicago Avenue clients.

The benefits of this approach are manifold. Clients who have experienced past traumas and live with symptoms like nightmares or night terrors often find it challenging to share spaces with others. With private rooms and bathrooms, this program fosters an environment that promotes healing and provides the necessary structure and personal space for recovery. Further, the model instills in clients a sense of ownership and respect for their surroundings.

“When clients have their own space, they tend to take better care of it,” said Program Manager Daniel Nordlund.

While having roommates can offer opportunities for practicing boundaries, accountability, and social skills, it can also be problematic for individuals with specific mental health diagnoses. For example, a client who is relatively stable may feel uncomfortable sharing a room with someone who is more symptomatic, potentially leading to safety concerns. The trauma-informed model addresses these concerns and aligns with People Incorporated’s commitment to safety and individualized care.

“I hope it’s the future of residential programs,” said Nordlund. “It just makes sense.”

Trauma-informed care extends beyond the layout of client bedrooms. It includes considering the specific needs and traumas of clients in every aspect of operations, from the way staff members knock on doors to how they communicate. There are so many ways staff can create a more supportive and effective treatment environment. For instance, staff members are trained to knock gently on bedroom doors, introduce themselves, and announce their presence in a non-threatening manner, avoiding actions that could trigger a trauma response.

“There can be trauma associated with a loud pounding on the door,” said Nordlund. “Instead, we can crack the door open and say, ‘Staff entering.’ We can be gentler, always announcing what we’re doing and being very intentional in our approach.”

Although it is challenging to quantify the impact of these practices, the feedback Nordlund has already received from clients at Chicago Avenue has been overwhelmingly positive. Many express a desire to stay longer than the allotted 90-day period, expressing that they find the program more comfortable and supportive than other places they have been. The program is also unique in that it can accommodate wheelchairs and individuals with mobility barriers.

IRTS at Chicago Avenue embodies our commitment to trauma-informed care and sets a new standard for residential treatment programs. As we look to the future, we are confident that our trauma-informed approach will continue to benefit our clients and lead the way in mental health care. A gift to People Incorporated ensures we can continue offering this transformative type of care to neighbors in need. You can offer your support on the Give page of our website.