Father's dream for son leads to Holly rehab center

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Holly Township

Every February, a truckload of roots is dropped off at Rose Hill Center and, over the next few months, the residents nurture them and help them blossom into beautiful rosebushes.

It's a fitting metaphor for life at the center, a 400-acre farmstead in Holly that provides treatment for people with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depressive disorder.

Dan Kelly, left, straightens the hair of his son, John Kelly, before they give a tour of the Rose Hill Center. When Dan and Rosemary Kelly of Bloomfield Hills couldn’t find treatment for John, who has schizophrenia, they started their own center and now help many others.

It's the kind of place where a person can grow past the illness and find a path to a productive, rewarding life.

"People get better here because they come to understand their illness, get their medications set to the right level and can take part in activities and work that will prepare them for the next step in their lives," said Ben Robinson, CEO and president of Rose Hill.

Dan and Rosemary Kelly looked beyond the rolling green hills, the farmland and the crystal lakes and envisioned the kind of place the center could become. At its heart, Rose Hill is a testament to a father's love for his son and his refusal to give up on him.

In 1986, John Kelly became ill; the diagnosis was schizophrenia. After multiple hospital stints, Kelly's parents sent him to a rehab and recovery program in Massachusetts, one of two in the country at the time.

After a few years, Kelly had improved significantly but was still living away from his family. His mother started talking about getting him closer to home.

"At first, we thought we could get together with some other parents and start a group home," said Dan Kelly. "Then we thought, why not replicate this rehab center here and give him a place to live and work while helping others?"

The Kellys, who live in Bloomfield Hills, have come a long way since they founded the center in 1992. They now have more than 70 people on the payroll and serve 70 residents on campus and another 20 or so off campus. They've expanded to include programs for horticulture – their son's job of choice – animal care, kitchen and housekeeping skills, music therapy, a fitness center, seasonal parties and dances and much more.

About 1,500 people have come through the program and gone on to return to their communities and contribute to society in some capacity, said Dan Kelly.

"We had this vision of what we wanted to accomplish and this determination to make it happen," he said. "It was a lot of hard work but enjoyable because we could see the results of what we were doing."

About half of the residents at Rose Hill are from Michigan and most people have to pay for their own services, which can cost between $150 and $450 a day depending on the kind of care needed. Medicare typically does not cover residential programs, said Cathie Yunker, with the Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority's service network team for adults with mental illness.

With state funding cut for some counties in recent years Yunker said the agency needs to get the word out about important the funding is for those dealing with mental illness.

"We have to continue to ring the message that this funding is valuable," she said.

The facility also offers financial aid. The Kellys believe that this type of treatment facility, when combined with proper medical care and counseling, can be far more successful for certain people than other mental health initiatives.

Another challenge when treating mental illness is the stigma associated with it. In 2013, Gov. Rick Snyder formed the Mental Health Diversion Council with the goal of reducing the number of mentally ill people in the prison system while maintaining public safety.

According to a report released by the council in January, up to 64 percent of jail inmates in the state and up to 22 percent of Michigan prison inmates have a mental illness.

One of the ways to deal with this is to train police officers and first responders how to recognize the signs of mental illness and to get the person the right kind of treatment from the beginning, said Lynda Zeller, the Michigan Department of Community Health's deputy director for behavioral health and developmental disabilities.

"When they all know to identify a crisis and how to get that person connected to resources, that is one of the most powerful tools," said Zeller. "The myth is people can't get better. They can."

John Kelly is getting better, too. He describes Rose Hill, his home for the last 23 years, as "peaceful."

The idyllic setting on land across the lake to Great Lakes National Cemetery means the center looks more like an upscale summer camp than a mental health treatment facility.

With a menagerie that includes a horse, a few alpaca, sheep, goats, rabbits and two albino peacocks, as well as vast grounds to maintain and plants to grow and sell in the summer, there is a lot of work.

The residents volunteer to keep up the place as a way to keep them busy and to make sure they feel as though they are contributing to life.

It's the furthest thing from a hospital setting. Residents are encouraged to get their hands dirty, said Jessica Davis, head of the horticulture program.

"It's definitely something to occupy their time, but it's also teaching basic good judgment, teamwork skills, individual responsibilities and just seeing how they function day to day," she said.

On a recent Wednesday, Kelly and Robinson took a walk on the grounds and met some of the residents. One young man thanked them for starting the center and told them he wouldn't be alive right now without it.

In trying to help his own son, the Kellys have gone on to help other people's children too.

"Parents tell us," said Dan Kelly, "you brought our daughter or son back to life."


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