Low-profile rehabilitation center quietly does its 'marvelous' work

THE BALTIMORE SUN

At Hope House, you can't watch TV in the room you share, and nearly all of your waking hours are scheduled. You have to do chores and your own laundry. And caffeinated drinks and foods are off-limits.

The list goes on - a strict regimen for a clientele typically known to ignore responsibilities and restrictions. But there's always a clamor to get into Hope House, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center on the grounds of Crownsville Hospital Center.

The nonprofit center is the only one in Anne Arundel County that provides three progressive levels of residential addiction treatment - in-patient detoxification, intermediate follow-up treatment and therapy and extended care and integration into the community.

"Nobody else does that," said county Health Officer Frances B. Phillips, whose department provides $511,000 a year to fund six beds for detoxification and short-term care for impoverished county residents.

"Hope House has excelled not just at taking in people - sometimes again and again - but in taking care of their patients' other problems," Phillips said, noting that it gets help for patients' with other health and social problems.

This year, Hope House marks its 20th year, making it a longtime survivor in the shrinking field of in-patient addiction treatment services. At first, it focused strictly on alcohol rehabilitation but added drug treatment as the need for that service increased.

The rehabbed three-story building is so packed that there's no room for more than the current 38 beds and 55-person staff, and jumbles of items sit in counselors' offices because storage closets have been turned into offices. Still, 578 people, few of whom could pay, were treated there last year in stays that spanned from a few days to months.

The program is operated on a $2.1 million budget that comes mostly from the state and Anne Arundel County, and it also receives donations from area food banks and food stores and volunteer time from its graduates. Many who have not had contact with Hope House may not have even heard of it because it has kept a low profile for years.

But that might be changing.

Prompted by increased demands for treatment in a time of shrinking government budgets and with an eye toward potential expansion, Hope House has scheduled its first public fund-raiser, a performance by the comedy troupe Capitol Steps at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 6 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis.

"We badly need, and we are putting into a long-range plan, to build another building," said board President V. Richard Cherry, a former Anne Arundel County resident who is president of Southern Maryland Printing & Graphics Inc. in Clinton.

Government allocations cannot be used for new construction.

What the future direction of Hope House ought to be and how it will expand are questions the board will look at in coming months. The board also is probing issues such as how to raise its public profile and attract private funding.

Tracie Jones-Foster, 35, arrived at Hope House in 1994 after going through seven other rehabilitation programs and enduring more than a decade of substance abuse, losing custody of her children and living on the streets. A few years later, she returned as a medical records employee. She has received her high school equivalency diploma, completed several semesters of college and has gotten one of her children back.

When she first arrived at Hope House, she was reluctant to change.

"Two or three weeks into it, my counselor pulled me up and said, 'You either get into it or get out of here,'" Jones-Foster said. She then realized that if she wanted to see her children, she had to change.

The program includes a full day of chores, health education - mental and physical - substance-abuse lectures, group and individual counseling, and sessions on facing personal problems, controlling anger, dealing with stress, holding a job and interacting with people. Patients work with a mentor and venture into the community by attending 12-step meetings.

For people trying to escape the isolation of an altered state of consciousness, the Hope House setting can be jarring. There are two beds to a small room; two rooms share a bathroom.

"Isolating is not good," said Executive Director Ruth A. Hudicek. "It doesn't teach people to cooperate with each other. You figure: four people sharing a bathroom - you cooperate."

Melissa Wilson, 36, came to Hope House nine years ago to appease the courts.

"I used to draw on my shoes so I'd have something to look at," she said.

She learned to do a daily self-check, look at people, look in the mirror, make friends who have common interests.

She is currently co-owner of a collection agency, has earned the trust of her family and plays softball. She said she's amazed at how far she's come, despite a relapse.

"I've never had this much before in my life," Wilson said. "This is a lot to lose."

Just as addicts have bumpy roads to recovery, Hope House's path has had rough spots. Last year, bookkeeper Sherry Ann Trabing pleaded guilty to stealing $60,000, a devastating blow to an organization built on trust and mutual support. It took more than a year to straighten out the books, let alone rebuild staff morale, Hudicek said.

About half of the patients are court-ordered there, although many judges prefer longer programs.

Because agencies do not track patients over the years, long-term success rates are unavailable. However, 69 percent of its patients were successfully discharged in fiscal year 2002, according to Hope House statistics.

Phillips said the county Health Department plans to start tracking people it places there.

"It is small, it is outstanding. And quietly, it is just doing a marvelous job for many, many people," Phillips said.

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