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Living in recovery: Part 2

A look into Madigan’s Residential Treatment Facility

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What does it take to get on track when life's trials have led to the misuse of alcohol and other substances? The answer to that question is likely as varied as people themselves. For some, a 28-day stay in Madigan's Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) aids in altering patterns of thinking and quells destructive behavior.

The RTF at Madigan was developed three-and-a-half years ago to provide a final stop for servicemembers who need intensive, inpatient treatment to battle their reliance on substances.

How did the RTF become the distinctive program that it is? This is part two of the story.

Staff dedication

The program's staff ensures that the patients are attended to in every possible way.

"Our staff, every one of them, we come in on holidays, make sure they have activities going," said Dr. Aaron Edwards, a psychiatrist and the program's medical director. "I love the staff," he added.

Quantitative data displaying outcomes for an RTF are hard to come by. Numerous staff members point to the positive feedback they get on exit surveys and in encounters with past patients.

Providers, staff and even current patients can all share stories of how they run into past patients who offer positive feedback. Psychologist Dr. Julie Oberhausen has had providers come up to her at conferences and tell her how effective the program was for patients they see currently on an outpatient basis.

Edwards comes in at 5:30 a.m. to exercise with the patients twice a week. Having been deployed many times, he utilizes the combat stress control model used in deployment where the commander exercises with the servicemembers so the boundaries are broken down.

"The patients really seem to open up once they see you're willing to work out with them and be with them. It's also just being present and being there for them," he said.

A graduate's exit survey echoes the impact of his dedication as they stated, "Dr. Edwards went out of his way to keep us motivated and with a positive attitude daily."

Watching Edwards lead a workout session is hardly just a matter of being willing to sweat with them, he endeavors to work harder and longer than anyone, leading by example. Other providers join these workouts at times as well.

Lasting impact

Talk to any staff member and the appreciation for the valuable impacts of the program on its patients is evident.

"I believe in our program; it is a great program. I feel like we do great work here," said Fiona Gbehan, a registered nurse who has been on the unit since its start.

Sometimes the uniqueness of the program makes its greatness harder to instantly see than another one. Seeing a doctor pump a chest and save a life in the emergency department is obvious. The RTF unfolds its life-saving care over time and more subtly. From the outside, that is; everyone on the inside is clear on its value.

"I love the population I'm working with. I enjoy them. I like being able to spend four weeks with them; that's unique. To be able to see the growth they have emotionally and physically, it's very rewarding," said Edwards.

Juliana Whitaker, a registered nurse who is studying to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, added, "It's just really great to see the progress that they make and the difference that the staff here makes in their lives because this affects the rest of their lives."

"When they first come in, you can see the distress," Psychiatric Technician Linus Agu added. "By the second week, we can actually see the physical change in their body."

"As with anything, there are ups and downs, but I think that we do help," added Gbehan.

Proof of concept

The RTF has just completed a site assessment visit conducted by the Army Medical Command.

"They just went through a comprehensive review and they got glowing feedback," stated Col. (Dr.) Matthew Cody, the chief of Inpatient Behavioral Health who oversees the program.

This is a program and a unit on a hospital floor that is like no other in the medical center.

"Every time people hear what we do, they get it; and they like it," said Oberhausen.

The assessment team agreed. They acknowledged that Madigan's program provides the most thorough treatment possible. It also encouraged further support to include additional staffing and a dedicated chief to be at the table with hospital and installation leadership advocating solely for this program.

"The program works if it's allowed to work," said Gbehan. "Our patients matter."

The statements of two graduates may sum up this program best.

"I feel like I have the tools to finally start getting better in life and have a fighting chance against my illness. I believe this was the best possible treatment. I am forever thankful," said one.

Another echoed those sentiments. "Life-changing program. I've never felt so well taken care of in my entire life. Staff goes above and beyond to meet every need of the patient. Obvious that these are professionals, experts in their field. Thank you for providing the United States military with such an exceptional, successful program."

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