February 18, 2015 by Julia Brown, Associate Editor of Addiction Professional
Located on the banks of the Savannah River in Augusta, Ga., the 178-acre Bluff Plantation is the newest member of the RiverMend Health family of treatment centers. Offering comprehensive inpatient addiction treatment in a picturesque setting, the rehabilitation facility is the state’s only addiction treatment center with collaborative ties to an academic medical center.
“[Our] goal was to establish a really strong, effective treatment program in conjunction with the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University,” says medical director William Jacobs, MD, who is also the chief of addiction medicine at the university’s medical college. “Anytime you do a startup, there are always challenges with logistics, but I worked at the University of Florida for 17 years and they had done a number of these kinds of joint ventures with our division of addiction medicine, so we had quite a bit of experience.”
The collaboration between the treatment center and the university offers an opportunity to not only train students, interns, residents and practicing academic physicians, but patients will benefit from access to science-driven treatment delivered by experts at the medical college and will benefit from university technology.
Built by International Paper as an executive retreat, the building and the 2,000 acre property it stood on was eventually sold to local developer and renovator of historic properties Clay Boardman.
Over the years, the building was used as a hunting lodge and retreat for entertaining out-of-town guests and dignitaries, and was also a popular spot for weddings and for professional golfers to stay during the Masters golf tournament in Augusta.
Boardman eventually decided that he didn’t need all of the land, and sold the building and 178 acres to RiverMend. It was essentially a private home when it was acquired, so renovations needed to be made following the purchase. Bathrooms were made ADA-compliant, and ADA-compliant ramps were added as well as emergency lighting, intercoms, exit lights and an emergency system.
The plantation features a 6,000 square-foot main house and four two-bedroom, one-bathroom cabins sleeping four residents each; there are plans to build two more cabins in the near future. All are equipped with full-sized beds, limestone baths, flat-panel HDTVs and private porches that offer beautiful views.
“[The plantation] is truly named appropriately; it sits on a magnificent bluff,” says Jacobs. “You can look through the massive great room of the main house and out the back over the terrace and it drops about a mile down to the Savannah River.”
The campus is also very private and secluded, he says, adding that the lone sign of civilization is a water tower across the river than can be seen only on the clearest of days.
“You wouldn’t know we’re here—you can’t see anything,” Jacobs says. “It’s serene, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful; no distractions. An ideal setting.”
At the top of the front steps outside, the main building has a large front porch that opens into a great room with hardwood floors, high ceilings and fireplaces on either end. The whole back of the main house is glass with doors that open out onto the terrace.
No fluorescent overhead lighting is used anywhere in the building, Jacobs says. Instead, indirect track lighting is used in addition to lamps arranged around chairs and tables in meeting areas.
An area in the back corner of the house is furnished with chairs and large tables where patients can sit. The space is used for music therapy and art therapy. In the left-hand corner of the main building, a room spans the entire width of the house and features a built-in partition, which staff can use to divide the room. One half typically is used as an indoor exercise facility.
“We like to exercise our patients outdoors whenever we can, but if the weather doesn’t allow it we have space inside,” Jacobs says. “The other half of that room is more like a lounge or den in a nice home with leather couches and chairs. That’s where we have a large-screen TV and one whole wall is a bookcase with recovery and spiritual-based reference books for patients to use.”
A commercial kitchen connects to the dining room and meals are served family-style.
“We actually use meals as a therapeutic time,” he says. “Our staff eats with our patients and we do therapy with meals three times a day.”
A special diet is adhered to as well, following sister facility Malibu Beach Recovery Center’s “Dopamine for Dinner” model of a gluten-free, low-glycemic index diet, with no processed sugar or flour.
The plantation also has nature trails, where the staff’s exercise physiologist leads patients on mindfulness meditation walks. Yoga instructors are trained in mindfulness meditation as well, and classes take place daily on site.
A clearing located outside the back of the treatment center in a lower bowl of the plantation is where Jacobs says equine therapy will be set up; this will eliminate the need to shuttle patients elsewhere for the experiential therapy.
“We’re bringing therapy modalities to our patients on site so they can move quickly through our program schedule from one recovery-based activity to another,” he says.
Jacobs says patients under their care will undergo three phases of treatment—detox, assessment and stabilization. The clinical structure also follows Malibu Beach Recovery’s treatment method: a holistic approach designed to repair the brain’s reward system while providing necessary tools for maintaining long-term sobriety.
Following comprehensive academic evaluation and treatment planning, the detoxification process incorporates a number of therapeutic modalities to help alleviate the physical discomfort of withdrawal, including exercise and yoga, healthy eating, mindfulness, and therapeutic services.
Phase one assesses patients for either outpatient/ambulatory detox or in-hospital detox. If a patient has significant medical or psychiatric complications, Jacobs’ unit at the teaching hospital comes into play.
Phase two is residential treatment at Bluff Plantation. According to Jacobs, a system called RecoveryMind training is used, involving three kinds of groups: process groups to build emotional resiliency; assignment groups, where patients will receive written homework that will have to be presented in group settings or individually; and skill training groups, where patients practice recovery skills such as relapse prevention.
“Most patients really get better in group settings,” he says. “It’s not seeing the doctor that gets them better, it’s the work that they do in group settings.”
Phase three is aftercare, in which Jacobs says Bluff Plantation takes a very active role for its patients. Rather than an immediate patient graduation ceremony, they’ve adapted the treatment process used successfully for years with physicians and airline pilots.
“We do several years of continual monitoring with facilitated group meetings, and monitor ongoing recovery for at least a couple of years—preferably five years active, face-to-face treatment,” he says, “We believe this is what makes us unique.”
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