Getting to Know Steven Williams/Merry Meadow Farm

Steven Williams of Merry Meadow Farm

We were pleased to speak with Steven Williams, owner of Merry Meadow Farm. For over 30 years Merry Meadow has provided residents suffering from mental illness with a supportive, caring place to call home while providing in-house clinical, medical, and vocational support. Today, Merry Meadow offers four licensed facilities offering an assortment of care options ranging from short term support to long term care. Merry Meadow Farm’s main office and facility is located at 2122 Lower Plain in Bradford, Vermont. Visit their WEB site at www.merrymeadowfarm.com for more information or call the Business Office at (802) 222-9393.

How did Merry Meadow start?
My mother Betty Williams was a social worker at Dartmouth Hitchcock for many years and decided to move to Bradford to start something new. She started a Bed & Breakfast (at Merry Meadow) but kept in touch with the social work field. She always had a connection with Orange County Mental Health and we would have some of their clients come down to work on the farm and join us for meals. We also hosted a summer camp for kids and up until fairly recently had horses and an equestrian riding and 4-H program. The day that it all really changed was when a psychiatrist my mother worked with moved to New York City and started a practice down there. The psychiatrist asked my mother if she could host a client who could use a month in Vermont to get away from it all. It started slowly and grew steadily. In 1982, we had to get licensed and today we have four licensed facilities in two different states. Even though we have grown, we still model the family atmosphere that my parents started with. We are at a point now where we don’t want to get any bigger. I know everyone by name but if we got much bigger, we would start to lose touch.

What happened to the horses? Do you offer the equestrian program any longer?
As we grew, the camp was very viable and the equestrian program was quite good. The equestrian program got bigger and bigger and the community care home also got bigger and bigger. Insurance coverage got difficult and we decided it was time to end the riding program. We stopped the program but kept the horses around for a bit. We’re now kind of excited about the barns which are empty since we no longer have the horses. Without the horses, we can use the barns for all sorts of other activities for our residents.

What are your biggest challenges?
Insurance is a big challenge. In the early days, insurance would pay for care and now they won’t. It’s a difficult issue. It is rare for insurance to cover residential care. In addition, most insurance plans have a $10,000 lifetime maximum for mental health and cover only 26 therapy visits a year. There are also a lot of regulations we have to follow which can be challenging. Staffing weekend and night shifts is also always a challenge. We do offer good pay, benefits and a lot of support throughout the program for our employees and it is a great place to work.

What is your staff like?
We have great staff! We have absolutely wonderful people. They are very committed and many have been here a long time. Some have been here for 20 years and the average is probably around 12 years. We do have a lot of movement in house and opportunity for staff to assume new responsibilities. We also encourage staff to integrate their hobbies and interests into the program and support them in starting groups and activities around those interests. Currently, we have 56 staff members which includes part time people.

What are some misconceptions about your clients and how supportive is the community of your efforts?
A lot of the clients are gifted in specific things that need to be drawn out and enhanced. To have a program in place for self-help is important. There is an underlying stigma regarding mental health everywhere. Everyone has run into some form of challenge and some are to a greater degree than others. We have the ability to help people with their challenges, giving them a respite from the challenges of the modern day world. Vermont has been good to us and our clients and the Town of Bradford has been fantastic.