On a sunny afternoon last week, a family could be seen walking inside Hope House Laurel, while two groups of people of varying ages sat in chairs in the shade on the side of the building talking amicably.
This private substance abuse treatment center in Laurel's downtown Historic District, formerly known as Reality Inc., was closed for nearly a year, following a drawn out and very public clash between the facility's board and many of its employees over how the center was being managed. It reopened with 16 beds for inpatient clients in December 2011 under the ownership of Hope House, which runs a 41-bed addiction treatment facility in Crownsville.
"My only reason for taking over Reality was to make sure that Prince George's County's only residential treatment place would not close," said Peter D'Souza, CEO of Hope House in Crownsville and Laurel. "We need more places that offer programs like this. In Crownsville, we're almost full, which is one of the reasons we took it over."
When Reality opened in 1974, it had a 28-day treatment center in its main building and a halfway house in a brick building next door.
D'Souza is a licensed counselor, has a Master's degree in rehabilitation counseling and an executive MBA degree from Rutgers University. He said that now that the treatment center is fully staffed, including some nurses and treatment aides who worked for Reality, they are ready to make 16 additional beds available to clients in the former main office building. He says they are planning an open house this month to let residents and city officials tour the center and also as a means to attract clients.
"We had a big booth at the Main Street Festival and many people told us they didn't know we existed," D'Souza said.
Managers at Reality House have said they maintained a low profile to placate some business owners and residents in the Historic District who were concerned about the facility's clientele being in the neighborhood. But D'Souza says Hope House's board wants to change that and make it more visible in the community.
"It's the best kept secret in Laurel, so we want to make it a big presence," D'Souza said. "My board is actively pushing for improving the image of Hope House."
But City Council President Fred Smalls does not think there's any concern about the substance abuse treatment center being located in the Historic District.
"I can't imagine anyone being concerned about their clients because that never happened with Reality," Smalls said. "There was a void when Reality closed, so I'm happy to see the center back providing a needed service to the community."
D'Souza said one change they are working on with Hope House involves reaching out to those who need treatment and have insurance that will pay for it.
"Because Reality's name is connected to those with no insurance and it's known to the indigent, we plan to market it more to those with insurance," D'Souza said.
In the past, 95 percent of the center's clients were referred to Reality from Prince George's County. But county officials canceled their $1.4 million contract with the agency because of concerns over how the agency was managed and its non-compliance with some state regulations.
"That's not the fault of the county, but the previous owners had issues. We were not involved in that, so that chapter is over and I want to open a new chapter and do business with the county," he said.
But until, or if, the county restarts referring and paying for clients to receive treatment at Hope House, the center cannot accept those without insurance.
"We have no capability to take those with no insurance now because we don't have a contract with the county. Someone needs to pay for the treatment. The only way we can survive is with insured patients," D'Souza said. "Right now, we're struggling (in Laurel), but we're still open."
Hope House does take clients from Anne Arundel County who do not have insurance. They are paid through the county's Opportunity for Treatment Fund.
D'Souza said his board, which includes retiring Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank Weathersby, has members with addiction treatment experience. He hopes this will be a plus for the agency when they meet with Prince George's County officials to discuss a contract with Hope House.
D'Souza said as with Reality House, the majority of their clients are those with mental illnesses and addiction problems. One change he said they are starting to see is more patients coming in for treatment who are addicted to prescription medications.
"That segment of the population is growing," D'Souza said.
Another big change in how patients are treated for various addictions is that the center no longer offers 30-day, six-week or longer treatments, asReality did. Only a two-week treatment program is now offered at Hope House. Again, it comes down to payments.
"That's because insurance companies do not pay for anything longer. We don't offer long-term treatment at Crownsville either. In the good old days, we had that, but times have changed and we have to be financially viable and across the board, insurance companies won't pay for treatment longer than two to three weeks," D'Souza said.
Earlier, counselors at Reality House said many of their clients needed extended assistance to keep them from relapsing after their initial 28- or 30-day detoxification. Now, D'Souza said the long-term treatment they received in the past is condensed into two weeks.
"In order to make up for the shortness of time, we do treatment in small groups so the clients can talk out their issues better than in large groups. We do a lot of one-on-one counseling as well," he said. "Some who need longer treatment get sent to halfway houses and some go to out-patient programs."
For Smalls, who chairs Laurel Regional Hospital's board, the facility will be welcomed by doctors who treat those who come to the emergency room for overdoses or other drug-related issues.
"I've talked to doctors at the hospital about drug-related cases, and having the center to send patients when they leave the hospital for longer-term care will help," he said. "This will support what they do in the hospital."
An open house is planned at Hope House, 419 Main St., on Wednesday, June 19, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun