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Addiction Treatment Center News Largely Unknown

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

News Largely Unknown BOYNTON BEACH — The Watershed of the Palm Beaches has quietly treated about 2,500 people for alcoholism and drug addiction in the year since it opened. Nestled among the offices and warehouses of Quantum Park, the $15 million facility is Palm Beach County’s largest addiction treatment center.

A Patient at The Watershed writes in a journal during a morning class in which medical issues are discussed. On this day, the class is having meditation time. The $15 million Watershed is an addiction treatment center and it is the largest in the county. But passersby might easily mistake The Watershed complex — with its four-story main building, pool and fitness center — for a luxury hotel. “It amazes me that as big as we are, a lot of the locals don’t know we exist,” said Dr. Jason Jerry, the center’s medical director.

That might be in part because about 80 percent of the center’s patients come to the residential detoxification and rehabilitation center from outside Florida. Among them is Brooke, a 25-year-old mom from New Jersey who last week completed a 47-day stay to combat a long-term addiction to heroin. It was Brooke’s second stay at a treatment center but her first at The Watershed, where she believes she made great progress toward lasting recovery. “It’s so structured, with the classes and the things I’ve learned,” said Brooke, who asked that her last name not be used. “I feel so different this time.” The 120-bed center’s owner, Delray Beach-based Watershed Addiction Treatment Programs Inc., also has smaller facilities in Lake Worth and Boca Raton. The Boynton Beach center employs about 250, including eight full-time physicians, and keeps patients busy all day long with therapy and other classes. “We are a really largely unknown community resource,” said Chris Crosby, president and chief executive officer.

The private, for-profit company has worked to raise its profile and that of addiction recovery by sponsoring RecoveryFest, a music festival held at Mizner Park Amphitheater for the past three years. The event normally takes place in September, which the federal government has designated National Alcohol & Drug Addiction Recovery Month.

This year, however, RecoveryFest isn’t happening.

That’s because Hurricane Wilma roared through last October, just two weeks after The Watershed opened its Boynton Beach complex. While the buildings were unscathed, operating on generator power and covering other storm-related expenses was a financial drain on the company. “We kind of got hurt last year,” said Crosby, who added that the company’s board decided to suspend the festival at least for this year.

The road to The Watershed’s opening wasn’t always smooth, either. When the company was looking for sites, it searched throughout the county and found that folks weren’t all that welcoming. “It’s difficult to find cities that will allow a big detox center in their back yard,” said Jerry, the medical director. In 2002, Boynton Beach commissioners, interested in bringing more businesses to Quantum Park, approved the center in a 4-1 vote. But a few residents and one dissenting commissioner opposed the plan in part because the center is not far from Boynton Beach High School. “I opposed it because it was close in proximity to children,” said Commissioner Mack McCray, who voted against approval. “I haven’t heard of any problems, so I guess they are being good neighbors.”

The Watershed’s site plan was approved for 324 beds and five buildings, though this first phase has just 120 beds and three structures. Crosby, the president and CEO, said the company might add on to the center at some point but probably not in the near future. “If business continues to be good,” Crosby said, the company might consider it in a few years. Meanwhile, The Watershed stays full, he said, with an average occupancy of 110 patients. That’s despite its high-end price tag: A 30-day stay costs $16,000. Fortunately for Brooke, her health insurance covered her treatment in Boynton Beach. She’s moving on to The Watershed’s 120-bed extended-care facility in Lake Worth and hopes eventually to settle here for good. “I really want to move out of New Jersey,” she said. “I get depressed in winter.”

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