They are doctors, lawyers, Wall Street traders, CEOs, and they come to this remote area tucked deep inside the rolling hills and bucolic countryside of western Berks County to do the hard work of recovery from their addictions.
Caron Treatment Centers in South Heidelberg Township, known as the Wernersville campus, has been treating people with substance use disorders and behavioral addictions since it was established in 1957 by Richard J. Caron, a recovering alcoholic.
In 2015, this private, nonprofit residential treatment center that attracts people from around the country opened several residential treatment programs at Wernersville that were tailored specifically for executives and people who work in the health care and legal professions – making it one of few treatment centers like it in the country.
Because of its national reputation and proximity to Washington, D.C. and New York, Caron attracts high-profile politicians, lobbyists, BigLaw lawyers and federal and state judges.
Program and clinical directors and the multidisciplinary teams here have worked with this population for years, which they said provides a deeper understanding of the specific challenges these professionals face, along with evidence-based research that guides treatment.
“It’s not a population that we’ve just started to treat, but I think we recognize that they bring their own set of difficulties,” said Samantha Smith, clinical supervisor of the Grandview program for executives and professionals.
“They may not relate to an individual that is coming off the street, that’s homeless, jobless or has lots of legal issues. They’ll say, ‘Well, I don’t need to be in treatment. I’m not as bad as that guy sitting next to me,’ ” Smith said.
“[Caron’s professional programs] offers them a demographic that has similar life circumstances and who can relate to some of the more relational consequences.”
Patients choose the career-specific programs because they feel more comfortable living and working in treatment with others who share similar socioeconomic factors and professional experiences.
DRINKING AS PART OF THE JOB
Michael, a former Wall Street trader who now lives in the Greater Lehigh Valley and who asked us not to use his real name, went to Caron twice for treatment for addiction to alcohol and heroin.
“I got a job on Wall Street, and drinking was part of the job,” he said. “I was taking clients out three or four times a week. It was socially acceptable.”
Michael’s drinking became heavier, and he developed early signs of liver disease. After back surgery, he gave up drinking but abused pain medications, and eventually began using heroin.
By the time he came to Caron, he was in financial ruins and was no longer working because of his addiction.
Michael said he was in denial about being an addict, until he ran out of money.
“The thing I had my entire life is I had a job, and I was used to being successful and making money. I thought, I can’t be an addict. That’s a guy on a park bench with a brown paper bag,” he said.
“I thought whatever I put my mind to, if I work hard enough I can accomplish it. When it came to battling this disease, I said I can do this alone. I’m not willing to tell anyone I had a problem, although everyone knew I had a problem anyway.”
Michael has been sober since 2013 and continues to work on his recovery.
He meets with his sponsor every morning and speaks to other addicts in Caron’s executive program.
“Most of us have some sort of ego thing; we can’t see ourselves as the alcoholic or addict,” he said. “The challenge for a lot of us is that most of us are very driven, very ambitious.”
Link Christin, a former lawyer who is executive director of the Legal Professionals Program at Caron, said there is clinical and therapeutic value in having a program that is run by a lawyer and supported by people who understand the legal profession.
“I think it helps them with the obstacles of going to treatment, knowing that they’re going to spend time with other lawyers, knowing they’re going to be in a track that’s run by a lawyer,” Christin said.
“I think it just makes them feel safer and more comfortable and less intimidated,” he said.
TRAITS, UNDERLYING ISSUES
Program directors said many lawyers and physicians share certain personality traits, such as self-reliance, that helped them achieve academically and professionally, but don’t serve them in recovery from addiction.
“There’s a whole lot more going on with these individuals than the detox process of cleaning out the system,” Smith said.
“They don’t get that when they first come to treatment. They think, ‘I’ll just go away and clean up and I’ll get this out of my system and I’ll go on my merry way,’ ” she said.
Smith said they often see those patients relapse because they are not addressing underlying issues.
CROSSOVER IN TREATMENT
Kate Appelman, who oversees men’s treatment programs and is involved in the health care professionals program, said Caron’s treatment teams excel at treating complex cases, the kind where “there’s smoke but you can’t quite find the fire.”
One patient, who had been referred because she seemed to be showing signs of addiction, was determined by the Caron team to be suffering from early dementia after an extensive evaluation.
There is some crossover in treatment programs, as patients in the legal professional program are housed in other units but put in a treatment track specific to their profession.
The health care program and the program for executives and other professionals, known as the Grandview program, have their own housing and treatment spaces on the sprawling hillside campus.
The costs vary by program and lengths of stay are based on individual needs.
<A 31-day stay in the executive program costs about $56,950 for a semi-private room; $60,650 for a small, private room; and $61,630 for three private suites.
<Costs for the legal program range from $32,000 for housing (about 28 days) in primary adult care to the costs for the executive program.
<A six-week stay in the health care program costs about $40,000 to $45,000.
SOMETIMES, WORK IS ALLOWED
Patients in the program are allowed to use their laptops and cellphones, and some are permitted to continue working to some extent, as long as it does not interfere with treatment or could harm a client, Christin said.
Lawyers, though, are asked to have their cases covered or managed by other people so that they’re not thinking about practicing law while they’re in treatment.
But some exceptions are made if they have to make a call or leave for a half-day to attend a conference.
Christin said he does not want them to practice law, but if they must work, “we try to make sure they can function at a professional level or that they don’t lose clients or hurt their work.”
Sometimes a patient who has to attend a board meeting is given a day pass and a device called a Soberlink, which beeps when required to breathe into it at random times.
CONTACT WITH CLIENTS
Michael, the former Wall Street trader, recently had established a new financial services business when he relapsed and entered Caron for the second time.
“I had to have contact with my clients,” he said.
He was worried about losing clients, but Caron “gave me the flexibility to stay in touch. It was helpful.”