WASHINGTON TERRACE, Weber County — Michael Neal used to stay in bed all day.
"I let the house and yard go to pot," he said. Any time he got up, it was for a drink — up to five, 30-packs of alcohol a week.
"I was not functioning," the 47-year-old who is totally blind said Wednesday.
But that was five months ago, and thanks to 31 days of inpatient treatment beginning in September at MountainStar Healthcare's Ogden Regional Medical Center — and continuing support from friends he made there — Neal lives a sober life.
"It's wonderful to not be isolated and lonely," he said.
Ogden Regional, initially run by sisters with the Order of St. Benedict, began offering alcohol and chemical substance addiction treatment in 1973. The program, the first of its kind in the Ogden area, has grown and changed a lot since then — relying on evidence-based practice — but, essentially exists and strives to encourage long-term patient sobriety among a particularly challenging slice of Utah's population.
"There are twice as many deaths by (drug) overdose here than any other place in Utah," said Justin Hatch, director of behavioral health at the Weber County hospital. "We are still losing too many to substance use disorders."
He said Ogden and surrounding communities have "a huge need" for quality mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
On Wednesday, the hospital opened a new residential treatment facility that can house up to 12 adults, men and women, for up to 90 days of intensive treatment. The new service comes in addition to medical detoxification, inpatient medically supervised rehabilitation, partial hospitalization/daytime programs and intensive outpatient rehabilitation programs already offered there.
"We want to give people an environment they feel comfortable in so they can focus on recovery," said Josh Grondel, director of community outreach. The new 5,000-square-foot facility, which will begin accepting patients by March, he said, "is less like a hospital and more like a residence."
Hatch said there are many places people can get help, and he hopes that's the choice they make, but eliminating a public stigma surrounding mental health and substance use disorders is key to getting them there. No matter how many beds become available, he said, "it's not enough."
Statistically, Hatch said, it takes a person seven attempts at treatment to succeed.
"It's not easy to get here. It's not easy to stay here," he said, adding that the new Alcohol and Chemical Treatment program "will be a place where people can come and feel welcome however many times it takes."
Tony Martinez, a recovering addict, jokes that he went into treatment 23 years ago "to let the dust clear, and to have a 28-day vacation." Treatment, however, was tougher than he thought, forcing him to make a lifesaving decision.
"If I did not change, I could lose everything I had worked for," he said. "I chose to change lives."
Martinez, now a substance use disorder counselor, said the Ogden Regional program "allows patients to believe in themselves."
"My family knew it was in me all along," he said, thanking them for the encouragement to keep going. He tries to give that to patients he meets along the way.
Local DUI attorney Kelly Cardon said he meets a lot of people who hit rock bottom, "but then some of them surprise me and they go even lower in life.
"Some people have to make a clean break and someplace like this gives them a chance to reorient themselves and get back to living their lives," he said.
Neal said he has been drinking since his 20s, experiencing "hardly a sober moment." In addition to his disability, which also developed in his 20s, drinking was debilitating.
"I'm grateful for the clarity and new sober life I experience now," he said, adding that he spends a lot of time volunteering at the hospital to help maintain his sobriety.
The sentiment was similar for members of the Sober Riders Motorcycle Club, a worldwide group of recovering addicts who live daily a beneficial 12-step program and carry its message to strengthen hope for others, said Utah chapter president Bret Field, also known as "Mr. Clean."
"We want to show that you can still ride a motorcycle and be in a club and have fun while being sober," he said. The entire crew said they'd be open to new members at any time.1 comment on this story
Ogden Regional is the first in a nationwide network of Hospital Corporation of America hospitals to offer a residential treatment program. It will hire at least 40 new employees to help deliver care and staff the new facility, as well as tend to a dozen beds in the newly remodeled behavioral health treatment center.
"They're complementary programs," said HCA regional vice president Scott Hullinger, who was in town for the public ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony held at the facility on Wednesday. "People can get the treatment and education that is necessary for them to live a full and fulfilling life."