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Rehab center expansion.

Byline: Elon Glucklich The Register-Guard

For different reasons, the sound of shovels scraping dirt on a Coburg field next week will be music to Mike Dyer's and Jerry Gilbert's ears.

Dyer is the president and CEO of Serenity Lane Health Services, the Eugene-based alcohol and drug rehabilitation nonprofit organization that has treated patients from across the country since opening more than 40 years ago.

For him, the Sept. 10 ground breaking on Serenity Lane's $27 million Coburg campus will cap a seven-year process that's seen clinic officials scour the Eugene area for possible sites, draw up big plans, scale them back amid funding shortages and launch a full-scale outreach effort to raise money for construction.

But for Gilbert, replacing Serenity Lane's aging in-patient clinic at East 16th Avenue and Patterson Street with a sprawling, 15-acre Coburg campus is personal.

Of the roughly 60,000 people who have received treatment for addiction at Serenity Lane, Gilbert, now 78 years old, was somewhere between patient number 50 and 60.

The story of how he came to Serenity Lane isn't much different than that of thousands of others who have sought help for alcoholism.

But what he's done since is his defining story.

A 1960 graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law, life was on track for Gilbert through his 20s and early 30s. He married his wife, Joyce, had four children and settled into a law career in Eugene.

Alcohol was a part of his life, something he could enjoy with friends in moderation.

Then, seemingly suddenly, he couldn't.

A few drinks turned into scotch with his coffee every morning, followed by trips to a nearby bar in the evening. He drifted away from his family and law practice as his dependency spiraled into full-scale alcoholism.

Former addicts often look back to a time when they hit rock bottom. Gilbert remembers his clearly.

He left Eugene and his family behind in 1973, paying $18,000 to buy a small home in the Oregon Coast town of Brookings, a half-block from a tavern called The Green Door.

"I was jaundicing. I was experiencing damage to my liver. That was pretty much a bottoming out time," Gilbert said.

He can't remember how long it had been since he'd spoken to his wife at that point, maybe weeks, maybe months. Shortly after his 38th birthday, feeling sick and missing his family, he hopped a Greyhound bus back to Eugene in early November 1973.

The next day, he finally made the decision that laid the groundwork for his recovery.

"I was very sick when I came back to Eugene," Gilbert said. "After 24 hours of persuasion by my family, some of which penetrated my blackout-riddled drunkenness, I became a patient at Serenity Lane."

He'd tried numerous times to quit drinking before. Without the help of medical and addiction experts, those efforts led to severe bouts of depression, followed by relapses, Gilbert said.

An eight-week treatment program at Serenity Lane restored his physical health. Lectures about addition and recovery, and group therapy sessions gave him a chance to compare his story with others walking in his shoes.

In the 40 years after completing treatment, Gilbert hasn't had a sip of alcohol.

"I'm firmly convinced it wouldn't be a slip but a complete collapse if I went back to drinking," he said. "But I have my family. Without the experience with Serenity Lane, it wouldn't have happened. I recovered for my family, and every day since then has been fantastic compared to what it was like before."

Stories like Gilbert's make Dyer, Serenity Lane's CEO, wish there was no need for drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics. But statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Oregon struggles with some of the nation's highest rates of drug abuse, particularly from prescription painkillers.

Dyer said he hopes the new clinic bolsters Serenity Lane's status as one of the country's premiere addiction clinics. Just 20 to 25 percent of Serenity Lane's inpatients are from the Eugene-Springfield area. Most come from other parts of Oregon, and five to 10 percent come from other parts of the country.

Serenity Lane has long eyed an expansion of its only residential treatment center, with its 65 inpatient beds nearly constantly full, and its 16th and Patterson building growing more outdated by the day. (The nonprofit organization also operates 10 outpatient clinics in Oregon and Washington.)

Serenity Lane's construction timeline calls for the new clinic to open in spring 2016. The plans show 90,000 square feet of building space spread among nearly a dozen facilities, including residence halls, a dining area, hospital services, a family and children's area and a small outdoor amphitheater. Walking trails will connect the buildings, while trees and water features will give the campus a natural feel.

The clinic will also have 130 beds, double the capacity of the current facility, with room to double again to 260 down the road.

The clinic paid $2 million for the 15-acre parcel south of the Coburg Industrial Park in 2008, according to Lane County property records. Dyer said Serenity Lane is working on a deal to sell the 16th and Patterson building, but those plans aren't finalized.

The clinic's planned expansion has seen its share of bumps in the road, too.

The original price tag was $30 million, which included plans for a gym, a meditation center and an additional residence hall.

But the funding hasn't materialized for those projects. Serenity Lane is relying on a combination of donations, bank financing and its own money for the expansion.

Dyer said fundraising was a bit slow in the depths of the recession but has come back stronger in the past few years, clearing the way to start construction next week.

"It's the realization of, really, almost 10 years of planning," Dyer said. "There's more we want to do in the future. But it's great that we've gotten here."

Follow Elon on Twitter @EGlucklich. Email elon.glucklich@registerguard.com.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 2, 2014
Words:999
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