It was lunchtime Wednesday afternoon in a Victorian-style brick home on South Willson Avenue in Bozeman. The sounds of plates and laughter came from the dining room in the back of the house as the smell of food slipped in from the kitchen.

It’s a typical scene for many but, for the people at the Voss House table Wednesday afternoon, mealtime has historically been laced with anxiety.

The Eating Disorder Center of Montana in Bozeman last week opened the Voss House as a partial hospitalization program that connects people working through its full-time treatment to housing in town.

The center’s co-founder and clinical director Jeni Gochin said the new housing program is about access.

She said now people in Montana living with an eating disorder have a place to stay for treatment.

“We were having people from all around the state and some outside seeking care. The housing market is such here that it’s almost impossible to get a short-term place to stay,” Gochin said. “We want to be able to keep patients not only in state, but also provide the opportunity to get nutritional rehabilitation.”

At least 30 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. Providers have said the complicated illness remains underestimated and often unseen.

The center opened with outpatient care in downtown Bozeman six years ago this week. At the time, there were three people on staff. Gochin said the center, now a staff of 25, became the first licensed eating disorder health care facility in Montana in May.

The provider bought the iconic brick home that was once the Voss Inn in 2018 and spent a year renovating the site.

Gochin said for some people, the housing is the first chance they’ve had to tap into the treatment in state. For others, it means they’re not commuting hours each day or checked into a Bozeman hotel.

The residency program has space for up to six people and, a week in, is already home to three. The adult program accepts people who are 18 and older.

Patients in the residence spend five to seven days a week in treatment with programs running from roughly 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The minimum stay is typically six weeks, though some could live in the home for up to three months.

Gochin said private insurance has been a primary funder for the care, though the center is working on being able to accept patients on Medicaid — a process its new license helps open the door to.

Once someone reaches out to the center for help, they go through an orientation and the center submits that clinical information to insurance. Many, regardless of their weight or size, are undernourished.

Gochin said treatment plans for each person varies based on their needs. The daily programs offer training with dietitians, meetings with therapists and creating meal plans among other things.

“These are women who are very socially isolated in one way or another, they’re either isolated in community or isolated in terms of what they can express to the people around them,” she said.

The first floor of the house includes a movement room set aside for regular yoga sessions. The next room is a community meeting spot for the house.

Upstairs, what was once floral wallpaper is now white walls with colorful furniture. Rooms include two beds to a room and there are small gathering spots with couches and books for the residents to hang out between programs. A room down the hall is where residents meet with providers and go over their treatment plans.

Lindsey Grauman, a registered dietitian with the center, said the program also includes three group meals prepared by a chef and three snacks a day. The meals always have a dietitian and therapist on hand.

She said the program takes away a patient’s defense mechanism, their eating disorder. The center’s challenge is helping patients learn what the disorder is a symptom of and how to reshape a relationship with food.

“Pretty much every patient is on a meal plan and so we’re there just making sure what’s on their plate translates to their plan and offer support for them,” Grauman said.

The center plans to begin offering cooking classes, from shopping at the grocery store to cooking meals together in the home’s kitchen. Grauman said she hopes by next year, the house has raised beds and a greenhouse in the backyard.

“Many of these people haven’t had that experience with food because meals have had so much anxiety,” she said.

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

Katheryn Houghton is the city government and health reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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