The Life Center of Galax has been helping individuals struggling with addiction for over 40 years.
But like almost everything else in life, the face of addiction is always changing. The ability to adapt and adjust is a must for those tasked with treating the disease. It is that ability that has helped the Life Center of Galax help others for more than four decades.
“We provide residential treatments for individuals who are struggling with addiction. We help them learn about the disease and how to develop the skills and the tools that they need to be in a life of recovery,” said Lisa Hatcher, CEO of the Life Center of Galax. “We believe addiction has five prongs – biological, psychological, social, spiritual and emotional – and it really impacts and takes hold of your life if you haven’t learned how to manage it, just like diabetes used to take hold of lives. It truly is a disease and diabetes used to be misunderstood by the general population in the seventies. Some people can use for legitimate reasons, take one pill and some people will be immediately become addicted.”
The ways people can become addicted continue to change. Just as opioids and methamphetamines have quickly become a national epidemic, Hatcher said The Life Center of Galax has seen sweeping changes in addiction in just the past two or three years.
“If you have the physical pain and then any of the stressors in the other parts of the life, whether you have issues at work or at home or anything at all stressing you out, if you don’t have a good support system and you have the biological disposition where your brain latches on to it immediately, you can be addicted. People don’t intend to get addicted but it can spiral out of control,” Hatcher said. “As recently as 2015 we were still treating twice as many people addicted to alcohol versus other drugs. Now it is reversed and it is more opioid and methamphetamines and very few just straight alcohol. Most of them are taking pills or using meth. And the majority of people who come in, it’s not that they started seeking illicit drugs, but they were taking medication for legitimate reasons and they became addicted.”
Hatcher said the scariest thing about addiction is that it affects everyone. She said The Life Center of Galax has treated former millionaires who lost everything to attorneys, doctors, stockbrokers, nurses and teachers. It affects folks from all walks of life, most of whom just want to get their lives back and hold on to their families.
“It’s the one thing that is truly non-discriminatory. It doesn’t matter your gender, it doesn’t matter your religious background, your national origin, your career or race, it doesn’t matter,” Hatcher said. “The West Virginia Attorney General calls it the equal opportunity destroyer.”
Hatcher said the dynamics of the disease The Life Center is treating now is different than just a few years ago. With that in mind, the facility has been in the process of developing and improving its programs over the past year.
“We have gotten everyone in the building to get a mindset of patient-safety first because some of the physical situations they find themselves in when they walk in the door, they have more medical complications now than they have been used to and more reoccurring mental health issues than they did when patients walk in than in the past,” Hatcher said. “We have had to make improvements to our building and beef up our staffing across all our departments to make sure we are providing them a safe and therapeutic environment.”
Since taking over as CEO less than a year ago, Hatcher has been hard at work making sure The Life Center of Galax is keeping up with the ever-changing world of addiction and providing the best care possible. Chief among those additions has been the hiring of Bonnie Stewart as the center’s new director of counseling. A licensed professional counselor, Stewart has more than 20 years of experience in the industry as a counselor. Tammy Eichner has also been brought in as the new director of nursing. Eichner has worked for several years in the field at the University of Virginia and also at the psychiatric unit at Twin County Regional Hospital.
Hatcher said The Life Center of Galax is still a 12-step program, but an evidence-based core curriculum called Living In Balance is now being utilized. Developed by the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic, Hatcher said Living In Balance provides proven curriculum that touches every aspect of addiction – from the disease process to working the 12 steps to family issues, whether it is the child, parent or the spouse.
When she took over as CEO last year, Hatcher said she came in to redesign the program to meet the current need because the face of addiction has changed so drastically over the past three years. Previously, she worked at the Mount Regis Center from 2013-2017 as the director of business development. Before that, she served a stint as a college dean in West Virginia.
Hatcher said there is really no way of quantifying the number of people who have made long-term recovery from one treatment. However, she said the Life Center constantly has people that come back a year, two years, 10 and 20 years later expressing their appreciation the center played in getting them on the road to recovery.
“And we invite them to come back to talk to our patients to see this is the one treatment that could change the rest of their life,” Hatcher said. “We do know that fewer than five percent readmit within 30 days of discharge, so that means they are at least getting a good solid foundation to get started on their recovery.”
Even more importantly, they are getting that foundation in a facility that is medically equipped to handle the potentially lethal effects often associated with overcoming addiction.
“When they are coming off the opioids they are likely to relapse if they are not in a treatment facility because they literally feel like they are dying, it feels like the worst flu you could have. So if you are not in a treatment facility you are at risk to use to try to alleviate the symptoms,” Hatcher said. “On the flipside, most folks think since you can buy alcohol over the counter it is okay to buy, but you actually could die from detox from alcohol so you need to be in a place where somebody is watching you closely because you could have a seizure and die.”
Over the last six months, the addiction that has caused the most adjustments for The Life Center, and similar facilities in general, has been methamphetamine addiction.
“The meth that people are getting a hold of in the last six months is sending people into a psychosis where they think they are dead. Some of them get to the point where they can’t speak and they are terrified,” Hatcher said. “You can see they are terrified and you can get them to write, and they write that they are already dead and they don’t understand how you can see them. Some aren’t coming out of it, but at a certain point if they are not then we have to send them to a facility where they can better imagine it. It’s a very scary thing.”
Hatcher said the Galax facility continually offers training to help its employees gain more skills. To work in the field, she said you really have to know who you are deep down inside because some of the stuff you deal with could really rattle you.
“You have to be strong and be steadfast in doing it because you know that you are here to help people so it doesn’t frustrate you and wear you down. People in this industry have either had someone close to them who have struggled with addiction or struggled with it themselves and so that is why they have more patience than the average person,” Hatcher said.
Addiction is a disease that affects the entire family, so the Life Center offers family programs on weekends where family members of patients can receive family counseling. There is no charge for the service because it is considered part of the treatment for the family’s loved one. The Life Center does encourage patients to participate in AA and NA and for families to reach out to Al Anon or Nar Anon.
The Life Center of Galax is located at 112 Painter Street in Galax. It is part of Acadia Health Care, one of the largest behavioral health care companies in the U.S., Great Britain and Puerto Rico. If you or someone you know needs help with addiction, The Life Center of Galax can be reached at (276) 236-2994, then press 1 and it will send you to someone who can help you immediately.
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN