NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The isolation brought on by the pandemic has done a number on people struggling with substance abuse. A new treatment center is about to open in North Little Rock to meet that need and the operators are going old school, literally, to make it happen.
"It's not every day that you're in a position, as a former person who didn't graduate high school, to be able to buy a high school," said Chris Dickie, the CEO of Natural State Recovery Center outside the former Oak Grove High School.
Dickie himself is in what he calls long-term recovery. He says his BAC (blood alcohol content) was higher than his GPA (grade point average) in high school. So it took some ambition and vision to see an old campus as a potential medical facility.
"You have to have people on your team that believe in the vision," he said.
"Because when you come out here a year ago, I was immediately overwhelmed. It's a big space."
But the big space provides for big transformations. Classrooms are now bedrooms and the medical officer gets the principal's old office. The study cluster of buildings built in the late 1960s has been gutted and replaced with interiors that look to welcome and comfort people who will be coming there in crisis.
And other parts of a traditional high school are easily repurposed for the new mission.
"There's an auditorium that seats 500 people where we're able to use that space for different types of recovery-related events," Dickie said. "We have a beautiful piece of architecture that is the gym."
Clients looking to get exercise out on the running track will pass a kennel. The center is adopting dogs to serve up their own kind of therapy, and if they and a patient make the right kind of bond, perhaps find forever homes.
The surrounding neighborhood is working with the center after some initial misgivings when plans first came out. Clients will voluntarily come there. There won't be people ordered by courts, and that helped assuage concerns.
But most importantly, the campus will make the center the largest of its kind in the state when it opens on March 1 at a time when the pandemic has limited many similar options.
"The pandemic has rolled through our state and our country," said Dickie. "We're all hurting, and we've seen some of our providers close their doors."
Into that breach, the new center offers 18 medical beds that combine with their outpatient facility in Little Rock, to start a large potential alumni pool that hopefully follows a path from crisis to graduation.
"We'll have this wonderful thriving recovery community where people can come and get well," Dickie said.
People seeking treatment can call (501) 319-7074 or visit the website. Those channels are closely monitored since operators know, people reaching out are often in need of help in a hurry.