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Posted: Jan 11, 2006 12:13

Sierra Tucson

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Tucson, Arizona
Gina Ewing, Intake Manager

Visit Report By: Larry Stednitz, October 26, 2005

The beauty of the stark desert and mountains outside of Tucson is a fitting frame for Sierra Tucson. The well constructed southwest style facilities blended nicely with the desert plants and meandering trails. With the added beauty of the mountains in the distance, it creates a serene and peaceful experience. Sierra Tucson is a licensed specialized psychiatric hospital and inpatient behavioral healthcare facility that treats a myriad of disorders for adults, age 18 and over.

Approximately 25 percent of the patients are under age 26. The hospital was founded by Bill O'Donnell in 1983 as a substance abuse program. Bill envisioned a strong experiential program to enrich the treatment experience of all family members including siblings. Sierra Tucson is now owned by Camp Recovery Centers (CRC), based in Cupertino, CA. CRC is known as the nation's largest provider of alcohol and drug treatment.

Although the hospital began as a substance abuse treatment program, it is now a multi-faceted facility with specialties in alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and sexual addiction, as well as other emotional and behavioral disorders.

The "Sierra Model" recognizes what they call a "simple truth," meaning that all of us exist as mind, body, spirit and emotions. Their intention is to treat the whole person and their approach is bio-psycho-social and spiritual.

In the early 80's, Sierra found itself in the tenuous position of most hospitals, with the managed care system ravaging expensive in-patient treatment, which caused most hospitals to close or dramatically reduce the length of stay for their patients. Sierra took a bold path by eliminating their dependence on third party payers. The day I visited, Sierra was at capacity with 90 patients and over 200 employees.

Sierra Tucson specializes in treating co-occurring disorders. This focus is reflected in their staffing which includes MD's, physician assistants, psychiatrists, certified addiction specialists, registered nurses, eating disorder specialists, registered dieticians and therapeutic activity and fitness specialists including equine therapists.

Sierra fully integrates specialists into each patient's clinical team, which results in a variety of traditional and integrative therapies. Sierra offers a staggering array of treatments including the usual hospital psychiatric programming, 12-Step philosophies, group therapies, cognitive/ emotional/ behavioral therapies, relapse prevention and family systems. Other therapies include experiential therapies, anger therapy, Somatic Experiencing, psychodrama, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Additionally, acupuncture, chiropractic work, Swedish massage, Shiatsu massage, Qi Gong, Reiki, Yoga and Zero Balancing are integrated into the patient's experience. Sierra goes way beyond what most quality hospitals offer, even in comparison to the 80's and early 90's, when hospitals were well funded through insurance policies.

Needless to say, this innovative psychiatric/ behavioral health program for adults caters to bright, creative, open minded and well funded patients who have the means to take advantage of their excellent psychiatric and behavioral "best practices" treatments. These adults are obviously willing to look well beyond traditional treatments to overcome the obstacles that prevent them from living a full, enriching and healthy life.

Because of the nature of confidentiality in hospital settings, I was not able to speak with patients. However, during my tour, I watched as patients rode horses, worked out in a spa like health club, and meandered through the well manicured desert paths of the grounds.

Having been a clinical director for a well funded and progressive hospital in the 1980's, it was apparent to me that Sierra Tucson had the foresight and courage to adjust to the realities of managed care by advancing hospital treatment to a level that only a few can ever experience.

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