Normally, news stories are written in third person by a reporter reporting the facts of an issue. Originally, my intent was to do just that with this article; however, as I sat down to write it, I couldn't. Addiction is too personal for me.
As far back as I can remember, my dad struggled with alcohol addiction. He wasn't anything like the stereotypical alcoholic portrayed in movies and on TV. My dad never missed work, he was a strong family man and a devoted Catholic, and he never hung out in bars. Nevertheless, his drinking affected my family.
Like many families, mine had an unspoken code of silence about my dad's addiction. When I look back on it now, I have to wonder why we didn't realize that most people who spent any amount of time around him knew. It was a secret, I think, only to us.
For years, I longed for my dad to seek help. I had a wonderful childhood, and I never doubted my dad's love. It just saddened me that when he drank he said hurtful things he would have never said when he was sober. And often when he would get upset with one of us, he would punish with silence, causing intense pain without bruises.
When I look back on it now, I believe in my heart my dad never sought help because he didn't want to be labeled an alcoholic. Even today, there is often a stigma attached to a person afflicted with addiction, regardless of the biological and societal influences associated with it.
I have no doubt that my resting-just-below-the-surface memories of my dad's addiction and my unfulfilled hope that he would get the help he both needed and deserved caused me to linger on an emailed press release I received from South Texas Health Systems' Public Relations Coordinator Cari Lambrecht in late May. The headline read, "BRIGHT VISTA PROGRAM HELPS PATIENTS OVERCOME DRUG AND ALCOHOL ADDICTION COMFORTABLY AND CONFIDENTIALLY." Three words stuck out: Overcome. Comfortably. Confidentially.
I read on. " ... Significant medical withdrawal problems such as delirium tremors, itchy skin, vomiting, anxiety, hallucinations and convulsions are enough to discourage even the strongest willed person to give up the fight or not even take that first step toward sobriety."
The press release announced Bright Vista, a medical stabilization program for adults ages 18 and older that is the first of its kind in South Texas. Medical stabilization allows individuals from all walks of life to take that first critical step on the road to recovery. What makes Bright Vista's medical stabilization program unique is that it is done at McAllen Medical Center, an acute care hospital. All patients have private rooms, and the typical stay is three days.
Cari quoted Ryan Jensen, McAllen Medical Center associate administrator: "The fear of failure exists in us all, but this program is designed to cultivate success," he said. " ... By helping individuals go through the withdrawal comfortably and in a private setting, Bright Vista gives patients wanting to get out of that cycle the confidence that they can do it."
I wanted to know more, so I gave Cari a call. She arranged for me to meet with Ryan, Certified Addiction RN Case Manager Sandra Hulsey, and Monique Maynez, Bright Vista program coordinator. Monique told me that one of the greatest benefits of Bright Vista is that patients are not admitted to a "wing" or a "unit" designated for patients with addictions. Rather, it is a medical/surgical admission. This is often a plus when it comes to private insurance coverage, too, because while some plans will not cover stays in a behavioral facility, they will cover Bright Vista because McAllen Medical is a medical facility. Bright Vista also accepts Medicare and Medicaid.
Sandra explained that the medical/surgical floor's nursing staff went through extensive training in medical stabilization. She said they have handled this new program beautifully.
Sandra emphasizes that Bright Vista does not use narcotics to help patients go through withdrawal. "We treat their anxiety, their muscle spasms and other withdrawal symptoms with protocols, depending on what their addiction is," she said.
Bright Vista is only a few months old, but they already have success stories to tell.
"We've had marriages saved, kids brought back into families..." Sandra said, "and young people get their lives back on track," Monique said, finishing Sandra's sentence. Sandra explained that family members must separate the person they love from the disease of addiction.
"You can love the person and hate the disease," she said.
Bright Vista offers help for families, from advising them to go through the house thoroughly to discover hiding places for their loved one's drug of choice to providing them with brochures like, "Are You an Enabler?"
"I'm really straight with them," said Sandra.
Ryan, Monique and Sandra all emphasized the importance of networking within the recovery community. Before leaving the hospital, patients receive a comprehensive, tailor-made plan and referrals to aftercare programs so they will continue to move forward on that road to recovery. Some patients may be referred for psychological or psychiatric counseling or for residential programs. The Bright Vista staff might think regular attendance at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings or programs at the South Texas Behavioral Health Center are best for other patients. Besides working closely with Bright Vista's medical director, Dr. Yuri Bermudez, program staff also works with pain specialists, chemical dependency counselors, residential recovery program staff and others to provide the best resources for their patients.
"From the time they come in, we talk to them and explain this isn't it," said Sandra.
"It's not just a habit they'll get over," Monique added.
It's people like Jody Guerra, a licensed chemical dependency counselor in McAllen, who are helping Bright Vista's patients move forward.
"Jody has been a wonderful resource," Sandra said.
I wanted to know how they came up with the name Bright Vista. Monique explained that they went to United Health Systems' Lakewood Ranch Medical Center in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., where they have a Bright Vista program.
"We knew it was a need here, so we looked within our system and saw Lakewood Ranch," Ryan said.
"We went and shadowed them for a few days. We came back even more enthusiastic," Monique said.
The dictionary says a vista is "a view." So a bright vista would be a vivid view. My dad never navigated the road to recovery. But for many people in the Rio Grande Valley, Bright Vista is now allowing those suffering from addictions to have a vivid view of that road.
NOTE: To set up a confidential consultation, you can contact Sandra Hulsey, Bright Vista RN/Case Manager at 956-971-5680, Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.