Unity Recovery expands operations in Hobe Sound

Just as the Unity Recovery Center in Hobe Sound rebuilds dilapidated lives, so too does the drug and alcohol treatment center breathe new life into old buildings. The most recent building to undergo “rehab” is an apartment complex on Church Street in Hobe Sound. It is the third Hobe Sound building to undergo extensive remodeling in the past three years since Unity first opened here.

“To look at the way that building looks today,” says Hobe Sound Realtor Mike Dooley of Illustrated Properties, who arranged the building’s sale, “you’d never believe it was the same building from six months ago. It’s beautiful.”

Unity also remodeled the second floor of the Bank of America building at the intersection of Bridge Road and Federal Highway, which houses its classrooms and treatment center, as well as a quadraplex in Hobe Heights for client residences. Its detox facility is in Port St. Lucie. Their Church Street complex will eventually house up to 44 clients in the one- to three-bedroom apartments, which have tiled floors, granite countertops, and stainless steel kitchen appliances.

Each apartment also is equipped with an electronic sensor in the wall, so the Behavioral Health Techs–the front-line supervisors–can signal that an apartment check has been completed, which they do every 30 minutes around the clock, 24 hours a day. “The apartments have just been transformed,” Dooley adds, “and the landscaping is just top-notch.”

“Top notch” also is the way that James Walsh, licensing agent for the Florida Department of Children and Families, describes the Unity treatment program, “definitely among the top 10 among the four counties I’m responsible for,“ he says.

Part of Walsh’s job is ensuring that clients get from the treatment centers what was promised to them, so he spends much of his time interviewing both current and former clients, he says.

“If you consider what the clients tell me,” Walsh adds, “Unity is number-one on the list; the best that they’ve ever experienced anywhere in the U.S., and many of them have been through a lot of programs before they came here.”

He attributes Unity’s exceptional reports from clients to its quality professional staff, the doctors, nurses, and counselors that are part of the Unity program, the training that each staff member receives, and the “quality, continuous care” to which founder and owner, Jason Ackner, is committed. Ackner, who lives just north of County Line Road in Tequesta, worked in construction until he decided to open his own drug and alcohol rehabilitation center with two residences and nine clients at first. Now Unity has 60 clients, with a support and administrative staff totaling 50.

“A follower of the 12-step program for the past 12 years, Jason decided it was time that he gave something back for what he had received himself,” said Mandi Duggan, a licensed mental health counselor certified nationally, who is the Unity operations manager.

“He believes in a holistic approach to healing,” Duggan adds, “which makes a small town like Hobe Sound the perfect setting for our clients.” The treatment regimen, which emphasizes the importance of the mind-body connection, includes meditation, acupuncture and chiropracty to help control pain–often the first cause of substance abuse and dependence. Counselors also teach nutrition and the role of food, not only in feeling better overall, but in controlling inflammation that exacerbates pain.

Massage helps increase the levels of dopamine, the “feel good” hormone naturally produce in the brain. Regular exercise, offered through swimming, Tai Chi and yoga strengthens the muscles, especially of the back, and releases endorphins. Membership at Gold’s Gym on Cove Road is part of their package, and clients are encouraged to work out at the gym daily.

“We transport our clients everywhere they need to go,” Duggan says. “We have our own transport vehicles, five altogether, including two 28-passenger buses. We take our clients to the beach to meditate and to set their daily goals, we take them to the gym, we take them to Winn-Dixie to grocery shop, we take them on outings, some times at parks, sometimes to the movies, and always, we have staff with them. Always they are closely supervised.” Not all the clients go at one time to the same place. The trips usually are staggered, so that when one group of about 15 is at the beach, another group about the same size is at the gym. In the late afternoon, whomever was at the beach now goes to the gym, and the other group goes to the beach for an hour.

Most of the day, however, five to six hours, are spent in intense, clinical work, including individual and group therapy and classes at the treatment center.

In their residences, they learn to cook for themselves, clean up after themselves, plan their days, Duggan says. “Many of them have never learned appropriate self-care,” she says, “which is vital to a successful recovery.”

A cornerstone of the treatment plan is customization to each client’s history and needs, Duggan adds, including evaluation by a psychiatrist who treats any underlying mental illness, such as depression or bi-polar disorder. Each client continues weekly evaluations by the psychiatrist during the residential treatment phase, usually from 30-40 days.

“But we don’t just send them off at the end of 30 days,” Duggan adds. “We set them up with continuing care, whether that’s with a halfway house, a private therapist, whatever they need, and we call them weekly….We’ve tried to prepare them for the ‘real world’ where they must make their own decisions, but we also stay in touch, forever if we need to.”

Unity also takes clients back into the program if they relapse, which happens about 10% of the time, according to Duggan, or they may need to come back for only a week to shore up their resolve.

Their business model, which prohibits spending on non-essentials, ensures affordability without sacrificing quality; its pricing is less than half than many counterparts, according to Walsh, despite its high level of service. Even with lower rates, sometimes full or partial “scholarships” are offered. “If someone wants our help,” Duggan says, “we figure out a way to help them.”

Dooley, also their landlord, calls the Unity staff “good neighbors,” who respond quickly to questions and resolve any concerns or complaints immediately, such as leaving behind cigarette butts at the beach.

Now they take containers with them, according to Duggan, to ensure nothing is left behind–becoming part of their daily routine for reinforcing new behaviors.

Unity’s rehabilitation of old buildings aligns perfectly with the Hobe Sound Community Redevelopment Area’s objectives of bringing in a new business that strengthens the local economy and increases the tax base without building additional infrastructure.

Adding to Unity’s distinctiveness is the fact that it’s accredited by The Joint Commission, when few programs in the state are, Walsh says. Another just-as-important distinction, Duggan adds, “Being in a special place like Hobe Sound also makes Unity distinctive.”