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Schools & Program Visits - Feb, 1998 Issue #50

Center for Anorexia and Bulmia
Wickenburg, Arizona
Barbara Austin, Community Education Coordinator
Lon’s Visit: January 8, 1998 

The twenty or so girls singing songs in the Chapel at first glance looked like any group of teens having fun being kids. They were smiling and laughing as they moved their hands and wriggled to symbolize the various animals each verse was about. They were kids! But it didn’t take much of a closer look to see there was a big difference from most teen gatherings. 

Several of the girls had tubes running up their noses which were used for supplemental nutrition while they were asleep. Although baggy clothing is often a teen fashion statement, in this case the clothing sometimes hid skinny bodies. The evidence was still visible in pinched faces here and there, and an occasional view of an arm that seemed little more than skin and bone. The emotional feeling in the room was so overwhelming from the pain they were dealing with that it was very difficult for me to do more than to just intellectually observe the beauty of the ranch surroundings, the caring and competence of the staff, and the home-like non-institutional appearance of the ranch. Usually I can feel the healing of a program. Here, the image of the girls and what they were dealing with got in the way, and I could only intellectually see the healing. 

Remuda Ranch opened its doors in January 1990. This former dude ranch had been bought by founders Ward and Kay Keller in 1985 to help with their daughter’s anorexic crisis several years ago. In the process of her recovery, they learned that eating disorders are not about food, but were family illnesses. “This fueled the Kellers’ decision to convert Remuda Ranch into a treatment center for women with the same condition.” They have separate tracks for adolescents and adults. The five basic components of both tracks are medical, nutritional, psychological, spiritual and recreational. And, as I toured the Ranch, it was obvious they had not cut any corners in any of those areas, with a high staff-patient ratio (almost two staff for each adolescent), a full equine program, and friendly staff who were very serious about their work. 

The program for adolescent girls usually starts with 60-90 day intensive inpatient treatment on the ranch. These were the girls I saw singing. Following discharge, there is an option to continue the program on a less intensive basis at Remuda Life Programs, their extended care center located in Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix. The Remuda Life Programs provide the opportunity for the girls to test the triggers of their eating disorder in a safe and supportive environment. 

I had visited Remuda Life the previous afternoon. It consists of seven homes on a cul-de-sac, all owned by the Ranch, and at this time contains both adult houses and one adolescent house with four girls (There are plans to move the adolescents in Chandler to Wickenburg to be close to the Ranch). The girls live four to a house, shop and prepare their own meals, follow detailed diets, attend school, and keep the house clean, under the close supervision of staff. It was an obvious step down transition from the more intensive and structured setting at the Ranch, but still a very tight structure. Girls can come straight to Chandler if they have a less threatening version of eating disorders, but most start at the Ranch, then progress when ready to Remuda Life. The next step after Remuda Life is for a girl to either go back home or on to a residential school or program which has the structure to hopefully keep them on track. However, regressions at Remuda Life can lead a girl back to the Ranch also. 

The Remuda Life cul-de-sac was the picture of suburban living, being picked up, and well cared for. All the houses were clean, comfortable and felt lived in. The staff tended to be young and energetic. Some were in recovery themselves, and others were not, which to my view is a good balance. 

Founder Ward Keller is actively managing the corporation, and his goal is to have a premier center for eating disorders that can handle the tougher cases. It appears he has succeeded since girls come there from all over the country. He is very aware of the dangers of growing too fast, and a strong emphasis is to sift through options to choose those that make sense for their current stage of development. Immediate plans are to expand the number of beds for adolescents (as well as for the adult program), but he sees limits on their growth, not wanting to become too big and lose the intimacy they now have. 

He has considered offers to open centers in other parts of the country, and also to expand into treating males with eating disorders. Though some of these offers have been very attractive, he feels Remuda Ranch is not yet ready to make that commitment. However, he is hiring significant numbers of new staff. One purpose for that seems to be to create the depth in experienced staff which could be a first step toward expanding into new geographical areas. In the meantime, they have created an Oasis for girls with serious eating disorders. Staff explained to me the first step in working with any new patient is to focus their attention on hope. This seems to be what Remuda Ranch is establishing itself as nationally — Hope. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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