Celebrating the impending opening of the Endless Mountains Extended Care facility on Lithia Valley Road in Wyoming County at an open house last Friday were (above, from left) Nick and Trish Colangelo, Leo Vergnetti, and Stephen and Arianne Scheller.
Photos and story by Rick Hiduk
Advocates for persons in Wyoming County suffering from substance use disorder and alcoholism have been waiting for many years for an adequate facility and staff to provide treatment beyond the 28-day model traditionally offered to their clients. By the end of October, Endless Mountains Extended Care will be fully operational, offering up to 25 men a long-term recovery program that includes both treatment and employment coaching.
“It’s wonderful to have these people in our community,” said John Fabiseski, a certified recovery support specialist at Trehab and the chapter lead of Young People in Recovery. “I feel that it will benefit Wyoming County in that treatment can be extended to 90 days.”
Experts agree that one month does not provide enough time for sufficient detoxification, clinical evaluation nor the opportunity for caregivers to develop a trusting, positive relationship with their patients. More time, says Fabiseski “is crucial to building the foundation of recovery.”
Resurrecting the former Lithia Valley Manor nursing home into a safe and nurturing environment for men ages 18 to 50 in recovery was a labor of love for clinical director Dr. Arianne Scheller and her father, Stephen Scheller. Arianne has an out-patient counseling practice in Scranton. Stephen has a successful construction company and has been in recovery for 20 years.
“My dad didn’t have to do this for business,” Arianne said of her father’s dedication to the project. “He wanted to pay it forward.”
Stephen’s skills are evident in the nearly complete renovation of the primary building, which includes newly stuccoed ceilings, new carpeting and furniture, and a fresh coat of paint. Each two-person room has its own bathroom and shower. Common areas on the ground floor include the laundry and a large gathering room near the kitchen and dining room. The majority of the offices are on the second floor.
Endless Mountains Extended Care (EMEC) is a state-licensed halfway house, part of a growing effort by the Commonwealth’s Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs to not only open more badly-needed facilities but also to establish common criteria for a large number of privately owned practices. “Halfway” is a term the state uses that Arianne knows that can conjure up negative images, but EMEC is not “sober housing.”
“This is treatment,” Arianne maintains. “We have a lot of exclusions to admission here.” Those admitted can have no history of violent behavior or child abuse, nor severe psychiatric diagnoses. “This is not a mental health facility, but we offer counseling. Severe mental health disorders need to be handled in a place with people certified for that.” There will not be a psychiatrist on site.
In addition to Arianne, administrators at EMEC will include facility director Daniel Devivo, consultant Nick Colangelo, and consulting counselor Leo Vergnetti, the latter being Stephen’s recovery sponsor who has 35 years of sobriety to share with clients. The remainder of the staff will be made up of part-time licensed counselors with masters degrees and a number of counselor assistants who are in recovery or have a family member in recovery.
They need to be familiar with the 12-step program,” Arianne said of the staff members who will be working many of the late shifts. “They’re going to be talking with the people a lot.”
“The people who are doing it really know their stuff,” Wyoming County commissioner Tom Henry concurred, noting that the staff brings with them an enormous amount of professional experience from other facilities. Owing to the limited success of the 28-day model, Henry also hopes that more patients will realize their long-term recovery goals and be less likely to return to prison.
The three-pronged approach to treatment at EMEC will include drug and alcohol counseling and 12-step meetings; life skills training that includes anger management, personal hygiene and career coaching; and “adventure therapy,” a combination of hiking, running and biking, gardening, and team building exercises. Specialized therapy includes regression hypnosis, cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, meditation and eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR).
“We’re going to put our arms around the patients and give them the tools that they need,” Arriane remarked.
There is room for expansion of EMEC after the staff feels comfortable with the initial endeavor and as revenue allows for potential renovation of another existing structure or erecting a new building for women. There is also room for about seven additional men. The original concept for EMEC was to provide services for women as well, but female patients require a separate setting.
“There were a lot of hoops to jump through to open,” Arianne related, but she and her father felt immediately welcome in Wyoming County and credit the county commissioners and other officials with doing everything they could to get the facility open. Henry credited county human services director Mike Donahue for working closely with the Schellers to determine how best to utilize the property.
The services offered at EMEC are available to anyone who is eligible, Arianne noted, but she looks forward to working closely with the Wyoming County agencies that were especially supportive of the new facility.
“It’s my hope that we’ll get a lot of people from our county here for treatment,” Fabiseski stated.
Henry added that it was generous of the Schellers to employ Wyoming County residents who have gone through Drug Treatment Court and other recovery programs as counselor assistants and kitchen staff.
“The crew will include a lot of people who have gone down the same path,” Henry remarked. “That’s part of what makes this great too.”