From a distance, the 1840s stone farmhouse nestled in the rolling wooded hills along Thomas Run Road 5 miles north of Bel Air is a picture of serenity.

But take a walk inside, past two friendly, 3-year-old Labradors, and you've entered the turbulent world of the alcoholicand the drug abuser.

New Beginnings at Hidden Brook, as the former 152-acre farm is now called, is a 23-year-old substance-abuse treatment facility that has treated more than 7,000 people since its doors opened in September 1968.

"Philosophically, I believe addiction is a disease," said Barbara Bluestone, the center's 51-year-old executive director.

"If youcan get to people who have problems with alcohol or drugs, give thema period of supportive treatment, they have a chance to live productive lives."

Giving people a chance at productive lives is what Bluestone says New Beginnings is all about. The 51-bed center was founded by a group of doctors and philanthropists as Harford County's firsttreatment center.

The original license for Hidden Brook was for an "eating and drinking establishment" -- the county at the time had no precedent for a drug and alcohol addictions facility.

The facility offers outpatient programs and a 30-day inpatient program. HiddenBrook's 30-day inpatient program is modeled after the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous process. Average cost: between $8,000 and $11,000.

Patients are educated to look at the physical, emotional, social and spiritual roots of the disease.

"People who come into Hidden Brookare very, very sick," the Pennsylvania native said. "They are in financial trouble, in legal trouble, in emotional trouble. Our program addresses that."

The Hidden Brook center is one of 42 in the country.

New Beginnings is part of Recovery Centers of America Inc., which is owned by Santa Monica, Calif.-based National Medical Enterprises Inc. Recovery Centers bought Hidden Brook in 1986.

About 65 people work at Hidden Brook, including two doctors, one Ph.D. and eight counselors.

The center usually has 40 to 45 patients at a time, Bluestone says.

In addition to the inpatient center on Thomas Run Road, New Beginnings at Hidden Brook operates several outpatient centersin Baltimore, Cockeysville and Wilmington, Del.

Most patients at Hidden Brook are men referred by employers, Bluestone said.

Much of the cost is covered by insurance companies, although Bluestone said insurance companies rarely cover all expenses incurred in treatment.

Some of Hidden Brook's bills are never paid. Last year, the center wrote off about $1 million in bills out of total revenues of $7 million.

Hidden Brook is a small piece of National Medical Enterprises Inc., a 45,000-employee, 144-hospital company. NME posted 1990 earnings of $242 million on revenues of $3.94 billion.

The company's New York Stock Exchange issues have traded recently around $45 a share.

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