Treatment Abuse, Behavior Modification, Thought Reform > Facility Question and Answers

Open Sky Wilderness in Colorado

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I know this forum is about questions and answers but since there has been a long discussion I figured this thread was an exception as it has not been moved to another forum.
I didnt know there was a wilderness option for young adults because I figured most wouldnt go. What this previous poster highlighted to me though is the absurd double standard that seems to be a common theme in wilderness programs. Kids are told constantly that honesty is the best policy. Not just in this industry but at home from their parents. I came home the other day from work to find my twin toddlers in trouble for lying after spilling a green drink on a white couch. Their mother told them that were not in trouble for the spill but for trying to cover it up. I dont think this mentality is unique to my house and many parents who are frustrated enough with badly behaved teens to look at this option seem to be most frustrated if their kid tells lies. So if honesrty and moral integrity is one of the primary values that parents want their kids to have from going to wilderness, it is staggering that a program is so blatantly willing to lie.

Telling someone that they are free to walk away from a treatment program but doing everything possible to manipulate them out of this choice or make it physically difficult is blatantly dishonest and immoral. Battered wives are technically free to leave their abusive relationship but their partner often makes it exceedingly hard to do so. Nobody would say that this is OK. If you really wanted to set a young adult up to have a sucessful experience that got them back on track, surely giving them a detailed picture of what it entailed that was free of any manipulative behaviors would actually be more likely to get them on board. Recognizing that at 18 they are legally considered able to make choices for themselves and working through choices with them seems the only logical thing to do. If a place is not willing to do this then it is time to question the motives. Even prisoners who participate in rehab programs are given a detailed understanding of what is involved and in most cases the choice to sign on.

If you would like some first hand information about Open Sky - here you go.  I sent my son (then 16) to Open Sky.  He was suicidal, self harming, clinically depressed and self medicating with drugs and alcohol.   My son's father was also clinically depressed.  I am a good, strong mother and did the best that I could but my home had become a toxic place for my son.  Those of you who think that parents can always help a child better than someone from the outside hadn't been in my house.   Did I make mistakes?  Of course.  Haven't you all?  Could I handle the situation?  I didn't think so - Things were going downhill fast.  All three of us needed help by the time that I made the decision to send my son to Open Sky.

I believe that Open Sky saved his life.  It certainly changed all of our lives.  Do I know for certain he would have died if he hadn't gone to Open Sky?  Nope.  But I wasn't willing to take the risk.

My son did not want to go but realized that he needed help.  After 15 weeks in the wilderness, my son came home knowing that there was hope in the world for him.  He gained self confidence and skills to deal with addiction and depression.  There were still struggles when he came home but I can say that 2 years later, he is on a much different path than the one he had been on before I sent him away.

Open Sky makes sure that parents are engaged in the healing process with their children as the home environment is often part of the problem.  I went to counseling, his dad went to counseling, we went to counseling together to help my son heal.  Open Sky gave all of us the tools to move toward a healthier, happier life.

Is it right for everyone?  I don't think so.  However, I do believe that there need to be choices for parents who are desperately trying to save their children's lives.  It takes a lot of work on everyone's part and for me, taking my son out of the home and sending him to Open Sky was the first part of that work, admitting that my best wasn't good enough and that I needed help.  I didn't just drop my son off and say "fix him".  I engaged and worked with Open Sky to make my life better so that I could help my son.

I hope this helps anyone out there who has to make the same terrible decisions that I did.


--- Quote from: The Durango Herald ---Open Sky chief says agency ‘deeply concerned’ about frostbite cases
By Jonathan Romeo Herald staff writer, January 16 2016

The Durango-based Open Sky Wilderness Therapy program could face licensing and accreditation repercussions following a December incident in which six students were sent to a hospital for frostbite and two of them required an emergency flight to Denver for further care.

According to Open Sky’s CEO and founder Aaron Fernandes, the students were treated for frostbite on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29 at Southwest Memorial Hospital in Cortez after being out in nearly zero-degree temperatures in the Utah backcountry.

Four students were evaluated and released. However, two students were flown to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver, where they were treated and subsequently released, Fernandes said.

“We don’t have the final answer yet, but at the moment it appears that the students were not wearing suitable footwear for the cold weather conditions,” Fernandes said. “We are still investigating if there were errors in the decision-making by our staff regarding footwear or any other deviations from our safety guidelines.”

Fernandes said responders moved as quickly as possible, but he was “troubled that it took the time it did to get the students from the backcountry to the hospital.”

“Obviously, I am deeply concerned and alarmed about these events. We are doing everything we can to prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

Fernandes said he couldn’t comment further on the nature or seriousness of the injuries, citing student privacy. But he did say “all six students are either currently enrolled in or have recently graduated from the Open Sky program.”

Open Sky, founded in 2006, takes troubled teens and young adults into the backcountry for therapeutic treatment. Courses can last up to 10 weeks, based on the needs of the student.

The program has a summer location in the forests of the San Juan Mountains near Dolores, at an elevation of 7,700 feet.

Its winter site, where the incident occurred, is about an hour and forty-five minutes from Durango in the high desert of southeastern Utah, near the city of Blanding. The base camp elevation is 6,300 feet.

The National Weather Service reported that on Dec. 28 at the Blanding Municipal Airport the high was 26 degrees and the low was 4 degrees. The next day, highs hovered around 28 degrees with lows near 17 degrees.

Paul Gibson, clinical director of the emergency department at Mercy Regional Medical Center, said “it’s got to be pretty freezing out there” for frostbite to occur. Gibson was unfamiliar with the Open Sky incident, but said “the exposure was probably tremendous” to require a transport to Denver.

“They probably exhibited later signs of frostbite,” Gibson said. “That’s when the skin starts to die and fall off. Generally, they’ll send them to the burn center in Denver, because the treatment is pretty similar.”

Open Sky is accredited by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council and the Association for Experiential Education.

Mike Gass, a director at Outdoor Behavioral research center, said internal and external reviews are conducted of field incidents, which could affect an organization’s accreditation status.

“If a program did something inappropriate, they could be put on probation or, if it’s serious enough, have accreditation revoked,” Gass said. “My understanding is this was a cold snap that came in and affected the program. It’s a rare occurrence, but there are some things in nature you just can’t predict.”

Dan Miller, a standards director for the Association of Experiential Education, wrote in an email that the organization is “aware of this incident, and it maintains regular communication with all of our accredited programs to ensure that they remain in compliance with our standards.”

The Human Services departments of both Colorado and Utah, which Open Sky is licensed under, did not respond to inquiries about the specific incident. Pamela Neu, with Colorado’s DHS, said if an incident reaches a critical level, investigations could be launched under the state’s Child Welfare program.

Fernandes said Open Sky is in compliance with the reporting requirements of both states.

Wilderness therapy came under intense scrutiny in the mid-1990s following the death of a 16-year old boy in Utah involved in a different program. That caused criticism that outdoor programs were more of an abusive boot camp than a holistic healing experience.

Danny Frazer, a co-founder of Open Sky, told High County News at that time it was a “kick in the butt” to the industry, which led many wilderness programs to seek state licensing and accreditation.

“There’s been a major transformation since the mid-1990s when there was a number of accidents and incidents that were inappropriate,” Gass said. “The field has really matured since, in the last 10 to 15 years.”

Robin Reber, an admissions director for Star Guides Wilderness in Grand Junction, said it’s industry practice to use state-of-the-art winter gear when bringing students out into the backcountry in cold temperatures.

“I don’t know of any wilderness program that doesn’t operate year-round,” Reber said. “We’re very careful with the young people we have, and we don’t like being cold either. You have to be really conscious of the temperature.”

--- End quote ---


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