What Really Goes on in Drug Rehabilitation Center in Denver?

I have had both the privilege and the misfortune of being on both ends of the psychological spectrum. I have suffered from Dysthymic depression all of my life and, though I have never needed to be institutionalized for my disorder, I have heard stories both good and bad from those who have. To go along with these stories, I have had my own personal experience working at a psychiatric hospital that specialized in drug and alcohol rehabilitation. When I first began working on the Spruce unit of Exempla West Pines Psychiatric Hospital in Denver, I was skeptical about the sort of staff I would meet. I knew that in order to work with those who have a chemical dependence, a person must maintain a level of compassion and patience; Again, I was skeptical about meeting such people.

Throughout my training at West Pines in Denver, much of my cynicism was assuaged and my skepticism allowed to rest. For the first time in my life, I was able to see the nightmare that defined a visit to rehab. From addictions to prescription medications to extreme heroin withdrawal, I have witnessed quite possibly the worst moments in those peoples lives. So of course I wanted to help, however I was new and untrained – I needed guidance.

Guidance is what I received. The Spruce unit always had a psychiatrist on staff and at least three nurses and two mental health counselors were readily available. I was astounded to hear that there were room and patient checks every fifteen minutes, around the clock, by a trained professional skilled in art of caring for the sick. These checks proved to be an essential aspect of safety for the patients due to the unfortunate incline of withdrawal-provoked suicide.

Along these same lines are the strict limitations that West Pines has set in place. Upon admission, there are certain personal items that are restricted from the unit. These items not only include the obvious razor blades and over-the-counter medication, but extend to shoe strings, belts, and clothing with drawstrings attached. This precaution is strictly for the safety of the people who come in seeking our help in overcoming their dependence.

After the admission process (which is not as arduous as one may think) the patient is shown to his/her room where there is a small dresser to keep personal items, a clean and comfortable bed, and a fully functional bathroom complete with personal shower. The patients are also supplied with hygiene products such as toothbrush, shampoo/conditioner, lotion, etc.. Because some of the people who check in to our facility are without a home, there is a clothing room stocked with garments that have been donated by the staff.

Of course no rehabilitation center would be complete without a plethora of meetings and groups to attend throughout the seventy-two-hour period of the average detoxification process. West Pines staffs Occupational Therapists that run self-help groups, one-on-one counseling, and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. These meetings are usually scheduled after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and patient attendance is rewarded with special privileges on the unit. Some of these privileges include longer cigarette breaks, time to watch television, and trips off of the unit for dinner. Now, some of you may be thinking to yourself that those things are rights, not privileges. When I first started working at West Pines I thought the same thing. But I quickly learned that the structured system the hospital has in place is not a method of control, but a way to teach people self-discipline and boundaries. When we would have a patient who refused to go to group, once cigarette time rolled around and they were not allowed to go outside with the others, you can bet that they were the first to be sitting in the meeting the next time. This taught those who had grown dependent on a substance that there is an order of things that all of us must respect and abide by in order to live happy and healthy lives. This aspect of the program was perhaps the most important in the rehabilitation of our patients.

Along with the structured programming and the caring staff, there is the actual detoxification process. We’ve all heard those horror stories of the hospital patient forgotten by the doctor only to be completely dependent and helpless. I have never seen this scenario take place at West Pines. Every hour until eleven p.m. one of the nurses on staff is responsible for taking patient vitals such as pulse rate, pulse oxygen levels, and blood pressure. There is also a nurse administering medication to those in danger of withdrawing too quickly. Throughout this hourly process, the patient is treated like an individual and, most importantly, like a capable adult. And when you are in the position to be forced to enter rehabilitation, the first thing you want is your dignity.

Although there are many rehabilitation centers in Denver and its surrounding areas, I firmly believe that Exempla West Pines is one of the best. The level of excellence that Exempla provides to their hospital patients extends to the psychological help program. It is always unfortunate when someone we love (or perhaps even ourselves) requires medical attention for a chemical dependence, but what is important is that those in need receive adequate help and care from people who never forget that we’re all human, and that we all sometimes make mistakes.

If you or someone you know needs help overcoming a chemical dependence or would like more information about the West Pines Detox program, call Exempla Lutheran Hospital at 303-425-4500 and ask to speak to the Assessment and Referral Team at West Pines Psychiatric Hospital.

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