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New Program in Devon Helps Younger Addicts Recover

James Malervy

Authored by James Malervy

EASTTOWN >> Large portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Prince and other celebrities who battled addiction line the hallways. In a recreation room, the famous 12 Steps are prominently displayed on a wall.

The light and airy interior of the new Recovery Centers of America at Devon, replete with amenities, is a space where anyone might want to stay. And its nearby location is key to patients’ recoveries, allowing their families to take part in therapy and facilitating patients’ recovery.

The celebrity hallway photographs “show people some of the celebrities they idolize who struggle with what they’re struggling with,” said Rich Smith, chief marketing officer. It helps to “remove the stigma.”

And although addiction can strike anyone no matter what income level or social class, stigma remains an issue. But with more than 64,000 people in the U.S. dead from the opioid overdoses in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and the nationwide opioid crisis continuing, many people need help to overcome the scourge of addiction to drugs or alcohol.

If they step through the doors of the RCA, they will meet warm and caring people dedicated to helping them get beyond their substance abuse and learn skills they need to move forward with a sober life.

“With the rise of fentanyl and co-fentanyl on the streets, that’s why we work so hard to get people into treatment because it’s really Russian roulette. You just happen to get the bag of heroin that has a couple of grains too much of fentanyl and it’s deadly,” said Smith.

It’s important to include patients’ family members in the recovery process, said Scott Weisenberger, vice president of clinical services. Addiction does not just affect the individual, he said. It impacts families, friends and employers, he said.

“We help them with different strategies to change the family dynamic so recovery is not just the individual patient but also the entire family,” said Weisenberger. “One of the things we say to families is, ‘This wasn’t your fault.’ Parents will blame themselves. You can have the world’s most stable family structure and still have addiction. Addiction happens. We are above and beyond with what we do for families here.”

Another thing sets RCA apart is the amenities, he said. Each patient gets a double bed, a TV in their room, there are windows and the food is good.

“Other places I’ve worked the beds are, at best, like my first-year college dormitory,” he said. “Not real good. The theory is if you take people addicted to substances as a group of people, they’re social outcasts. They’re regarded as weak, anti-social, on and on. Having them live in a nice surrounding gives them a taste of what they can have, especially many of our patients, even though they come from middle class and above families, have lived in the streets or lived in their car in support of their addiction.”

The comfortable accommodations “are part of our treating every patient with the dignity and respect that they deserve,” said CEO Stephen Wicke. “A lot of other treatment facilities don’t look like this. They don’t have the amenities. It makes a huge difference. And one thing patients tell me repeatedly is these amenities allow them to focus on why they’re really here.”

Some of the patients have been in other facilities and have spent their time complaining about the bed, the pillow or the food, rather than focusing on their recovery, he said.

“It may appear to be superficial, but it’s not,” he said.

The Recovery Centers of America are an in-network provider for several major insurance plans, including Blue Cross.

“Our model is focused on being in the network, in the neighborhood and accessible and affordable,” said Smith.

They have a full-time medical director, eight patients per counselor, 10 patients to one nursing staff member with 24 hours, seven days a week coverage. Overall, there are 1.6 staff members to each patient, Wicke said.

In addition to counseling sessions, patients have music and art therapy, a wellness coordinator, equine therapy through Gateway Horseworks in West Chester and visits from therapy dogs. There’s a large fitness room with various exercise machines and yoga mats, as well as a cafeteria opening onto to an inner courtyard with a gazebo.

The equine therapy does not involve riding but rather grooming and petting the animals.

“It’s gotten rave reviews,” Wicke said. “It’s a therapy session utilizing horses. It’s about relaxation. It’s about realization.”

“Horses are very astute,” said Smith. “They sense anxiety. … They sense you’re nervous.”

Nondenominational religious services are offered on Sundays, and there are activities for both patients and alumni like ping pong tournaments, trivia nights and karaoke.

It’s important for patients to learn that they can have a good time while sober, said Wicke.

Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon meet at the facility, as well. And they also provide outpatients services, Smith said.

“We’re doing a first responders in recovery meeting that happens here,” Smith said. “We have a recovery health care providers meeting here. And that’s free. We don’t charge outside groups to use that space. We want the recovery community to be a part of what we’re doing here.”

“We, at all times, have a recognition that this is really a fatal disease,” said Weisenberger. “The number of young people dying at the hands of heroin and other opioids is just incredible. We don’t forget that that’s our primary mission, to help somebody and their family to be in recovery. I think we’re all mindful that’s at the heart of everything we do.”

A new program focuses on the specific needs of young adults. The genders are kept separate because men and women have different needs, said Weisenberger.

“We conducted focus groups with the younger people, 18 to 28, to find out what would work for them. This is the generation that grew up texting and emailing, so they’re rapid, rapid responders. And we had some seminars and lectures that were an hour-and-a-half long.”

Now, “we’ve made shorter, very interactive seminars with the patients,” he said. “We believe strongly there is a lot of education we need to give them about the brain and the body.”

Also, the young people wanted to learn life skills like how to balance a checkbook.

“This group of people was not learning through experience what other folks who aren’t in an addiction learn,” Weisenberger said.

Other topics include how to establish a good credit report and career skills like applying for a job.

“And [they ask] things like, ‘What do I do about the tattoos I have on my neck?’ So very practical, down-to-earth issues,” said Weisenberger. “Folks this age see things with very egalitarian eyes. So one of the things that Steve [Wicke] does weekly is he‘ll meet with five or six of the patients to see how their experience has been here. And that is important to them because this is the generation of people who think they can tweet President Trump and get an answer.”

Wicke added, “When I was growing up, the president was pretty remote.”

“To them, the president is pretty close, at least in their eyes,” said Weisenberger. “It’s important that Steve meets with them and they view that he’s on equal footing with them. Steve’s personality would suggest he’s not coming in as the king of Devon but rather he’s just another staff member and interested in them. … That whole philosophy permeates our facility.”

Wicke called those sessions “invaluable.”

Smith said young people in that age group are in a “different stage of mental development” than older adults.

“And they learn differently. There are different therapeutic techniques that are needed in that age group in order to be effective than someone 35 and older. If you commingle patients in that age group with patients who are 35, 40 years old, they just don’t have anything in common. So [you lose] the sense of community.”

And separating men and women makes it easier for the patients to share their feelings and experiences, said Weisenberger.

There is a safety factor for women, said Smith.

“They could have been on the street in horrific environments,” he said. Being with their own gender “creates a sense of security.”

Patients are not allowed to have any electronics like cell phones or iPads while in treatment, said Wicke.

“People are here for a reason,” said Wicke. “So they need to be focused on what they’re doing. It’s a very structured 16-hour day, seven days a week, from the time people get up until the time people go to bed.”

Bill Koroncai, director of internal communication, said, “We know we have a limited window to work with. From the time somebody’s perhaps willing to accept treatment and comes in, we have to engage them. We can’t have them half focused, playing with their cellphone, texting their dealer … whatever they might be doing. We have a limited window of time they’re spending with us in treatment to elicit a fairly profound shift in their lives.”

As far as life skills, we’re not just trying to treat patients and dump them out on the streets,” said Koroncai. “Rather, we’re trying to set them up for a lifetime of success and long-term, meaningful recovery.”

There is also a full-time case management department that focuses on setting up aftercare and continuing care, said Wicke. RCA offers a “full continuum” from inpatient detox to partial hospitalization to out-patient care within the building. So patients who are local can “step down” to an out-patient level of care and remain with RCA. Others are referred to programs in the area where they live, and they set up a specific continuing care plan for every patient before they leave, he said.

“Oftentimes it includes living arrangements, a recovery house, a halfway house,” he said. “We get involved with employment issues. We get involved with legal issues. Family issues, medical issues can all be and oftentimes are part of every individual’s aftercare plan.

“We have a limited amount of time here,” he said. “Patients that complete treatment successfully — a percentage do choose to leave early against medical and clinical advice — but those who do choose to stay complete 28 to 30 days. That’s really only the beginning.”

Over that month the therapists try to instill some tools and structure for the patients to use, said Wicke.

“An important part of the aftercare is connecting them with a 12-step group and finding a sponsor. … To me, a large part of the work really begins when they leave us.”

The RCA in Devon opened in August 2017, one of five that have opened in the last two years. Phase one is open, with two additional phases, totaling 205,000 square feet and 205 beds, under construction.

For more information, visit or call 800-RECOVERY.

Authored by

James Malervy

James Malervy

Jim Malervy is the Senior Director of Digital Marketing for Recovery Centers of America (RCA) and is passionate about helping RCA in achieving its mission of saving over 1 Million Lives.


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