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CAPE FEAR MEMORIAL BRIDGE: Updates, resources, and context

A closer look at The Healing Place of New Hanover County, the treatment facility now slated for a fall 2022 opening

The start of The Healing Place of New Hanover County construction in October 2021.
Danny Alexander
New Hanover County Flickr Page
The start of The Healing Place of New Hanover County construction in October 2021.

The Healing Place of New Hanover County was set to open in May 2022, but because of adverse weather conditions, the pandemic, and supply chain issues it’s likely the facility will open later in the fall.

The $24 million dollar facility will house residents anywhere from 4 to 9 months, free of charge; the facility can handle a maximum of 100 women and 100 men who are dependent on alcohol and drugs.

More on the opioid crisis in southeastern: The opioid epidemic is killing more people than ever. Here's what's being done locally to stem the tide

Alex Riley, communications and outreach coordinator for New Hanover County, confirmed that they are behind on the original opening date. So now the new completion date for the facility will be August 9th, 2022 and the proposed opening date is September 9th, 2022.

Tufanna Bradley is the assistant manager for New Hanover County: “Because of the pandemic and the shortages and delays with steel and other equipment, it has gotten pushed back.”

Bradley noted that theHealing Place of Kentucky, who will operate the facility, will determine when it’s best to start accepting people for recovery.

Riley also said The Healing Place project budget is $24,034,315. The original estimate was $25,476,580 but said it came in a little lower when it was bid out. It's one of the county's capital projects; they will pay around $1.5 million each year, using "its contribution to Trillium Health Resources to service the debt.”

The county reports it will cost The Healing Place less than $35 per day per resident to operate, without charging those to come to the facility for treatment. The facility will consist of 5 different buildings: detoxification, administrative/education, dining, women’s residential, and men’s residential.

The county will take care of maintenance costs while the Healing Place is responsible for operational costs. Additionally, the county’s annual budget includes funding for 50 of the beds (25 for men, 25 for women).

As to what responsibilities the county has at this future facility, “The county has made the investment, so the investment of the building, the investment of beds, so we'll continue partnering with them. But as far as having any kind of control, or what they do programming-wise, with individuals coming to seek their services, that's all going to be The Healing Place,” said Bradley.

Additionally, The Healing Place of New Hanover County does have a Board of Directors, with 9 members. Of those 9, the county commissioners appointed Frankie Roberts of Leading Into New Communities (LINC), Louise Coggins of the Trinity Wellness Center, and Vicki Russell of Advanced Wellness Group.

The Road to The Healing Place

Bradley said the start of the county’s discovery about Kentucky’s The Healing Place model began in 2016 when Trillium Health Resources brought the idea to them.

She said county staff did their research, visiting both The Healing Place in Raleigh (now known as Healing Transitions) and The Healing Place in Kentucky.

“And again, it is a little different because it’s not medically based. We do have plenty of facilities here that are; it’s a different model and a different option for people who are battling substance abuse,” said Bradley.

But the road to getting the facility up and running wasn’t easy. New Hanover County had to apply for a Special Use Permit (SUP) through the City of Wilmington. This process became contentious as Lower Cape Fear Hospice, Delaney Radiology, Wilmington Health, and The Children’s Learning Center came out against the building of an alcohol and drug treatment facility so close to them.

Some proponents of the facility said this was a case of NIMBYism, but opponents said it was more about the nature of the peer-based, non-medical facility that bothered them.

The city did ultimately approve the SUP in February 2019 with the addition of 24-hour professional security.

Bradley said once the facility opens, “Well, one thing that we're working on with The Healing Place of Kentucky is being good neighbors. So anytime there are questions or concerns that any of the neighbors have around the facility, we respond to them.”

Bradley also said the county is hoping to do outreach through public and community group information meetings about The Healing Place, potentially in the spring, but that depends on what stage we are in the pandemic.

What’s it like to live in The Healing Place?

Maurice Ludwick is the director of special projects for The Healing Place. He’s managing the facility in New Hanover County.

When the facility opens, Ludwick said he will be bringing mentors from The Healing Place in Kentucky before he can get people through the program in the county. There will likely be about 50 staff, Ludwick said, mainly all mentors, monitors, and some clinicians to do the comprehensive assessment during intake for the detoxification building.

In the detoxification building, there will be 14 beds set aside for women and 14 for men. Ludwick said it’s likely they’ll spend a day or two in detox.

“So our detox is non-medical; it's a social detox. So we just make sure that they're supervised and they have food and liquids, and we watch their vitals at least every eight hours and watch to make sure that they're doing okay; we have like a system to gauge their withdrawals and the severity of those,” said Ludwick.

And Ludwick said if residents get into dangerous territory, they'll send them to a higher level of care like the hospital.

After those who finish detox — it’s typical that around half will make it through, according to Ludwick — they’ll start their SOBER180 program, which is a 12-step model.

As for what specific type of model, Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, Ludwick said, “We need all the As, we bring them all.”

And after that, those who finish the program will have the chance to become a mentor, like he once was, starting in 2010.

“I think I was ten months getting through the program. And then I spent five months in our peer mentor office, and they offered me a job at the detox checking people in, and it just went from there,” said Ludwick.

A vast majority of the facility is run by those who live there — and the peer mentors who’ve completed the program.

Ludwick said this model has a powerful impact because the staff knows where a person in need has been:

“I came in the door on one of the worst days of my life, and I had a guy look me in the eye and say, ‘Hey man, this can all stop. And you just sit back here and do what these folks are asking of you things will get turned around,’ and he was right,” said Ludwick.

Ludwick also hopes to offer a variety of classes at The Healing Place: parent reunification classes, which work through custody issues and going to court, working through trauma and abuse, general education, and life skills courses.

During the day, they’ll have house meetings – mentors help facilitate these and their responsibilities throughout the facility. It’s mainly that they have the 12-step programming in the evenings.

Those who are early in recovery, they’ll have to “start off small, then the privileges get bigger as they go along,” said Ludwick. They’ll likely start off with a 4 p.m. curfew, but as they progress through, it’ll be more like a 10 to 11 p.m. curfew. They’ll also be able to visit family on the weekends, said Ludwick.

“We definitely don’t believe in tucking people away and hiding them from society,” said Ludwick, so they can receive medical care outside the facility, attend other community meetings.

“And there is some therapeutic value in that because they make a choice to come back the way they left,” said Ludwick.

And Ludwick said those who live there have responsibilities — jobs like cooks, groundskeepers, or housekeepers. And if problems arise, “We’re able to handle that in a safe environment and address issues if they come up. So we want them to get those lessons before they get out into the real world and catch real-world consequences.”

Mike Townsend is the recovery administrator for the Kentucky Housing Corporation. And he works with 18 recovery centers across the state, several of them being The Healing Place facilities.

“And that's the beauty of this program. It's not short-term, it's not 30 days and out. Those programs don't have much impact, but when you're looking at six to nine months of continual feedback about your behavior and your accountability, then what are you doing to give back to others?” said Townsend.

That giving back comes in the form, as Ludwick once did, of becoming a mentor after they’re finished with their program. Townsend said they have a big job.

“To mentor those men and women who are coming off the streets who are headed down there, they feel depressed, they feel anxious: ‘I feel like my life is ending’. And the mentors look at these people and say, ‘I know exactly where you've been. I've been there. You know, six weeks ago, I was living under a bridge, and I wanted to kill myself. But it doesn't have to be that way, it can change if you're willing to work on these coping skills.’”

On the important role these mentors play, Ludwick said, “That person sitting across from the desk or bed from you understands where you are and how you are feeling. They’re not judging you for it; they’re ready for you to be successful.”

Townsend said for those living in the recovery facility – it becomes like a family: “We don't love you to death; they love you back to life and that's the kind of the component that we try to focus on is loving your sister loving your brother back to life.”

And sometimes, this recovery takes longer than a 9-month period: “Some of our clients, they have setbacks, and they end up taking a little bit longer, sometimes the community will look at some of their brothers and sisters and say, ‘Hey, maybe you need a little bit longer to take a look at this,’” said Ludwick.

But Ludwick said he knows those who haven’t finished the program but still have gone on to live productive lives, that they learned something from the program.

Efficacy of The Healing Place model

The Healing Place, as well as New Hanover County, reports, “Graduates of this program maintain a recovery rate of 70% one year after completion,” but Ludwick said while this rate has remained steady for the past decade, tracking these rates beyond one year is difficult:

“The real question would be, how accurate are they? Because so many of our clients, they move on and start their own lives, and they move to other states, they get into careers, they lose contact with us,” said Ludwick.

Marla Highbaugh is the director of development and communications. She said tracking long-term recovery rates is difficult: “There is no national average. There is no national tracking, so we’ve gone back and forth with how to get the best numbers for that.”

And whether The Healing Place has seen rates of alcohol and drug misuse rise, Highbaugh said that 10% of the general population is typically dealing with some type of addiction, but that yes, there has been a change in overdose rates.

But what's remained consistent, according to Highbaugh, is that their facilities have housed between 8,000 and 11,000 people every year for the last six years.

And in the face of criticisms about their peer-led, non-medical approach Townsend, Ludwick, and Highbaugh said this isn’t the path for everyone.

Dr. TK Logan of the University of Kentucky, who studies recovery programs in the state of Kentucky, agrees with Townsend, Highbaugh, and Ludwick, “It's not for everybody there. There are some people that just simply this is not the approach. And we welcome them to try other approaches if that's in their best interest.”

Logan said how important it is that this facility offers long-term, in-patient living: “If you don't have safe and stable housing, if you don't have the services and the accountability, because many of them also don't really have good support systems necessarily because of what they've gone through.”

But if they finish the program, and it comes time for them to leave the facility, Ludwick tells them, ”You want to work your way back into that and not take it all at once, because it’s much too stressful.”

Ludwick said after the facility opens, he hopes to share more positive stories on recovery: “We always hear about the overdoses, we always hear about the tragic accidents,” but “I would really like people to do is tell those stories of success, when someone is doing well, they’re being good parents, they’re holding their place in life like they’re supposed to.”

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR