WCAX Exclusive: Families welcome Vermont’s first high-level eating disorder clinic

Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 4:05 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont’s first intensive outpatient eating disorder treatment center opens next week. The Kahm Center for Eating Disorders in Burlington comes after years of families and providers pushing for a local treatment center. As part of a special report, Cat Viglienzoni spoke with a mother who says having care close to home could potentially have saved her and her daughter months of suffering.

“We had an incredibly long journey,” said Alli Campbell, whose daughter, Kaia, began struggling with an eating disorder back in 2021.

The 15-year-old broke her hip and Campbell says it triggered the condition in the athletic teen. She says working with a therapist and a nutritionist to fight it wasn’t enough. “The care that she was getting was not nearly adequate,” she said. And Campbell says she quickly found out Vermont didn’t have any adequate care for Kaia. “There were no resources. There was nothing available for her at the level of care that she needed.”

As they kept looking, Kaia’s health declined more and more until she needed residential treatment. Three months in a Massachusetts program didn’t work. Kaia went back home to Vermont and was in and out of the ER. She eventually came home with a feeding tube.

“We would spend six hours a day just feeding her,” Campbell said. “I find it hard to... it’s even hard to put into words what that was like when your child is really struggling and you’re trying to feed your child liquid through a tube through her nose, and you’re doing it day after day after day after day... It was one of the worst things that I’ve ever had to do.”

Campbell says she believes he daughter would have died without the intervention. After three months of tube feeding at home, Kaia got into a residential eating disorder treatment center in Colorado. Campbell says having to send her child away for lifesaving care broke her heart. “Months went by where I couldn’t even give her a hug. Like, here’s my kiddo struggling in the biggest struggle of her entire life and all I want to do is hug her. I just want to hug her. I wasn’t able to do that. That was incredibly heartbreaking,” she said.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: It would have been easier if it was here.

Alli Campbell: It would have been so much easier... I feel like if she had gotten some support, more intense support sooner, her eating disorder wouldn’t have gone as long as it did, it wouldn’t have gotten as bad as it did.

While higher levels of care were not available for the family in Vermont, that’s changing. Intensive outpatient therapy is going to be available for the first time in the state thanks to the new Kahm Center for Eating Disorders. The clinic at Chace Mill in Burlington is staffed by specialists, including certified eating disorder dietician Elaina Efird.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: How badly did we need this?

Elaina Efird: Very... awfully.

Efird estimates about 25 to 30 percent of her patients who right now get one hour of care a week, need more than that. She says it’s the first hope families have of staying at home -- continuing with work or school -- and also getting that higher level of support. “I was thrilled. I was so excited because I was finally able to tell some patients that we have that available for them now,” she said.

In the intensive outpatient program, patients get three hours of care, five days a week, for about six weeks. That includes a wraparound of dieticians, therapists, and a medical director. They’ll have a supervised breakfast and snack and time after in therapy and group sessions to process the stress that comes with eating.

“Someone might be feeling distressed after a meal or having some serious emotions after that meal,” Efird said. She says the center can take patients 16 and older to start, though they hope to expand to adolescents in the future. The first six begin on Monday and there’s already a waitlist.

Officials at the center say they’re hoping to add a partial hospitalization program with five days of full-day treatment a week in half a year or so.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: Do we need even more than this though?

Elaina Efird: I think we do... The more options we have, the more ways we have for people to get care, the better.

But a recent report to lawmakers said the state doesn’t need the highest level of care -- residential. Efird and Campbell disagree. “I absolutely think there’s a need for that,” Efird said.

“Every single time she was there -- every time -- there was another family with a child in the hospital,” Campbell said.

Kaia is now back home and doing better. She’s back at school part-time but still dealing with the medical fallout from the eating disorder. Her mom says she hopes her family’s story will galvanize the state to act to make access to eating disorder care easier in Vermont so that other families can get treatment without leaving everything familiar behind.

“She could come home at night and I could hug her. She could sleep in her bed, she could have her cats on her lap. I think that’s something that would have helped her, definitely,” Campbell said. “She’s an amazing kid and she’s so kind and loving, and I hope she sees that for herself because an eating disorder takes all of that away.”

Campbell is encouraged that the recent report to lawmakers also recommended better education for providers, schools, coaches, and the rest of the public around eating disorders. It’s something she says is critical to catching cases early.

But Kahm Center officials say they’re concerned Vermont’s regulations may be discouraging more providers from opening up new eating disorder care in the state. Cat Viglienzoni will have more on that part of the story coming up Thursday on the Channel 3 News at 6.

Related Stories:

YCQM: February 5, 2023

Report: Behavioral and emotional issues on the rise among Vt. children

Vt. report outlines improvements to system for treating eating disorders

Vermont author chronicles eating disorder, mental illness

Bill creates working group on eating disorder treatment in Vermont

YCQM: April 24, 2022

Eating Disorders: Providers say Vermont must do more

Eating Disorders: Vermont lawmakers step in to help with treatment options

Dietitians see rise in eating disorders during pandemic

Does Vermont have enough eating disorder treatment for youth?