Trouble at the Hazelden Hotel

Trouble at the Hazelden Hotel

By Hunter R. Slaton 12/06/11

When Hazelden's posh new New York sober house was held up by red tape, the facility checked young addicts into nearby hotels. The result? Overdoses, relapses, and months of woefully lax supervision. Did the titan of treatment drop the ball?

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Hazelden's Tribeca Twelve
in lower Manhattan
Hazelden

The pristine walls of Tribeca Twelve, the new Manhattan sober living facility run by treatment giant Hazelden, are lined with rows of perfectly-framed artwork. Housed on the second floor of an elegantly restored 1910 building that Hazelden bought for $8.3 million from a failed condo developer, the  facility features a fireplace in the living room, bathrooms with marble floors, oyster-shell sinks, Wii consoles and state-of-the-art flatscreen TVs. The rooftop has been converted to a “multi-functional” deck that overlooks a buzzing downtown scene below.

When Hazelden opened Tribeca Twelve last summer, it vowed that its new sober living facility would provide “a safe, supportive, and secure environment” for up to 30 college-aged residents at a reported monthly cost of $5,500. The ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 5 drew dozens of city officials and luminaries from the recovery community. Five days later, a glowing story about the facility appeared in The New York Times. “The TriBeCa building nods to Hazelden’s rural roots, in photographic images of its woods embedded in the entry doors and an interior skylight. But it is also in the midst of a well-traveled nightlife zone, which would seem to offer many temptations to a recovering addict.” As it turned out, the Times' observation would prove all too prescient.

The problem is that for more than three months after Tribeca Twelve's opening, there wasn’t any actual living going on in the living facility. Until this past Friday, because of bureaucratic delays, the facility was operating without a city-issued certificate of occupancy, which would allow residents to spend the night in the upstairs bedrooms. Instead of turning away people in need, the staff instead chose to lodge its eight inaugural residents—each one a young student with a drug or alcohol problem—at two nearby hotels, the Hilton Garden Inn New York/TriBeCa Hotel and the Sheraton TriBeCa New York Hotel.

“It was a really difficult situation,” says Hazelden New York Executive Director Dr. Barbara Kistenmacher. “A lot of people were coming to our door who were in desperate need of our services, and they didn’t have another option.” (According to sobernexus.com there are seven sober living facilities serving the greater New York City area, including one started by a co-founder of The Fix, but none of them are exclusively geared to collegiate residents.)

The eight clients of Tribeca Twelve were housed on various floors of the hotel, paired off in double rooms. Residents claim that after a full-day of treatment at the Hazelden facility they were often left to themselves in the evening. Hazelden staff-members ran daily meetings, performed random urine screenings and required a daily check-in, but curfew enforcement was impossible at the hotel, where there was no around-the-clock staff staying among the residents. During this transient-living period, a few residents relapsed at nightclubs or were spotted drinking at the hotel bar. Several months ago, in a scene reminiscent of Sid & Nancy—one overdosed on heroin in a hotel bathroom.

Two former residents of Tribeca Twelve reached by The Fix were left unsettled by their experience there. One of the young men, 20-year-old Brent P., signed on in early August. Upon his arrival he was informed that the house wasn’t ready to be occupied, and he and his roommate were installed in a suite at the Hilton Garden Inn. Three weeks later, Hazelden's staff moved them and other residents into another nearby hotel.

“We still didn’t receive any news on when Tribeca Twelve would be opening, and they kept putting it off and telling us that everything was set but there was an issue with the plumbing, so they had to push it a week later, or two weeks later, so we moved into the Sheraton TriBeCa, right around the corner,” he says. And that’s where the dwindling number of residents was housed until late last week, when the city finally granted Hazelden a certificate of occupancy.

“There was a 12-step meeting at night...but then you could disappear," one resident says. "I could go to a club, go to a bar, wherever. So, you know, I eventually ended up drinking in the hotel lobby.”

“Initially, there were eight residents living there,” Brent says, “but one by one they started relapsing and doing poorly, and they left the house.” He added that one client actually overdosed on heroin in his hotel-room bathroom—he received medical treatment and was shipped off to rehab—and another relapsed badly on ketamine when he was out at a club after curfew, and was subsequently asked to leave the Tribeca Twelve program.

“We did have to discharge some residents,” says Dr. Kistenmacher. “But most were not because of the delay in the opening. Regardless of where they are living, there will be times—even when our living facility is open—that we won’t be able to accommodate the needs of everyone. I expect that we will have more people leave the house in the future. That’s par for the course with addiction.”

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Hunter Slaton is the esports managing editor for Blizzard Entertainment. You can find hunter on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

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