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Willingway Hospital

January 1, 2008
by root
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Administrators at many residential treatment centers will tend to say they want to create a home-like environment for patients. But at Willingway Hospital in Statesboro, Georgia, the notion of home is more intertwined into the fabric of the organization than it is for most: The organization's founders began their work in treatment in the 1960s by giving the first patients shelter in their own house.

“We started in a home and we're a family-owned center,” says Jimmy Mooney, CEO of Willingway and son of the couple who launched the treatment services that eventually would settle in the facility 50 miles northwest of Savannah. “When we made the decision to renovate, we knew we wanted to bring on a residential interior designer, not a commercial designer.”

Mooney says the use of a designer with a background in residential properties shows in the quality of the renovations that have taken place thus far. A project that has been two years in the making has resulted in renovations to Willingway's 32-bed residential unit in its main building on campus, as well as improvements to the “Sunshine” building that mainly houses the program's meeting rooms.

Renovations to the 8-bed detox wing of the main building will take place in the next phase of improvements. The for-profit addiction treatment organization has invested about $1.5 million in the overall project so far, in what is only the second significant renovation of the 37-year-old facility.

Willingway departs from the conventional wisdom about residential treatment facilities in certain respects. First, all patient rooms are private rooms with private baths, and Mooney says Willingway has experienced none of the problems with patient isolation that some treatment professionals would expect if they were to offer private rooms.

In fact, the added privacy plays an important role in patients’ recovery. Each bedroom is equipped with a writing desk at which patients conduct one of the treatment program's central activities: the writing of an honest life history that is read to one's counselor and then burned. While the life history does not become part of the patient's chart, putting it to paper—in whatever format the patient sees fit—proves to assist in the healing process.

While patients are not allowed to have visitors or take non-emergency calls in the early stages of treatment, by the end of their treatment stay they are reunited with loved ones. When family members arrive for the family program in the last five days of treatment, patients and their spouses can stay together in the patient rooms.

Interior spaces strike a balance between Southern charm and practicality. “We want to convey a sense of respect for the patient,” Mooney says. “These people have beaten themselves up and don't come in with a lot of self-worth. We're going to give them a good environment in which to get sober.”

At the same time, “We didn't want the place to be so elegant that people were afraid to sit down,” Mooney insists. The main building features comfortable, upholstered furniture, plantation shutters, and use of soothing colors such as sage green.

“This is people's home for four, five, six, seven weeks,” Mooney says. “We want them to feel at home.”

Other buildings on campus feature amenities such as large meeting rooms with video technology and a workout room. A lake at the front of the property enhances the calming atmosphere that program managers want to reinforce. “There is a lot of serenity in having a body of water on campus,” Mooney says.