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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 16th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 15, Issue 6

Champion Center will provide treatment for emergency and military personnel


Renovations on the Craftsman-style Champion Center are nearly complete, but there is still one major obstacle to overcome: The treatment facility must receive its licensing from the California Department of Public Health before the doors can open.

For more than a year, the site of the old Lompoc District Hospital on Hickory Avenue has been a construction zone complete with cranes, bulldozers, and dumpsters.

Although it’s not slated for completion until June 2014, residents of the south Lompoc neighborhood can finally see the finished product of the 18-month remodel: the Champion Center, a voluntary addiction treatment facility with a focus on first responders.

The center’s unique Heroes Program will offer concurrent treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chemical dependency exclusively for first responders such as law enforcement, fire department professionals, and especially military personnel returning home from war.

Jim White, the chief information officer of Lompoc Valley Medical Center—the center’s parent hospital—and spokesperson for the Champion Center, is confident in the one-of-a-kind concept.

“It’s so important to be among friends and to be comfortable during the recovery process,” White said. “The point of the Heroes Program is to have all of the heroes together in one place.”

For example, a police officer struggling with a drug addiction would probably not feel safe in a group with a person he or she might have locked up for possession.

 “We’re not aware of anything exactly like this in the nation, and it’s something we need,” he said. “There’s really nowhere else similar for these folks to go.”

Conversations are currently underway with Vandenberg Air Force Base and with multiple fire and police departments, such as the Los Angeles Police Department.

“They’ve shown some interest in using our program,” he said. “They see [the Champion Center] as a nearby option of where to send one of their own.”

The new center will be able to accommodate more than 70 patients spread over three distinct phases of treatment. The first stage is detoxification, which will take place in the two-story medical services wing. As all traces of drugs and alcohol are removed from the body, patients are monitored and their withdrawal symptoms are treated with medication.

The second phase happens in a dorm-like residential living facility with 34 beds and involves participation in individual and group therapy sessions.

“After the patient is clean and sober, the challenge is to look at how they got there and what their issues are,” White said.

The final stage is sober living—made up of four condos with two beds each—where the final progression is made to a drug-free existence.

Ideally, patients will spend at least 30 days in the each stage and up to 90 days in sober living.

When creating this three-stage design, some of the existing walls and foundation from the defunct hospital building were incorporated in order to cut down on demolition costs. Built in the early 1940s, the old hospital has been empty since the Lompoc Valley Medical Center opened its doors in 2010 on Ocean Avenue.

“The sections from 1942 are being built up to 2014 code,” White said. “There are five different generations of construction in the building.”

The renovations were designed specifically to fit in with the architecture of its residential surroundings. The neighborhood, which was built up in the 1940s, epitomizes an era in which each home was unique and featured the Craftsman style.

“It goes back to the early 1900s when kit homes were sold out of the Sears and Roebuck mail-order catalog,” he said. “They were called Craftsman homes.”

The total construction cost for the 64,000-square-foot complex is estimated to be around $18 million.

“We’re already getting positive feedback from the neighbors,” White said. “They’re excited about how beautiful the building is and how it’s dressing up the neighborhood. I expected to hear complaining, but I’ve heard nothing but good things.”

Living next to an acute tier hospital for the last 70 years, residents of the surrounding neighborhood were used to noisy ambulances coming and going at all hours of the night.

“It’s going to be a lot quieter now because everything that happens there is going to be inside the building,” White said. “The neighbors aren’t going to see a lot of the occupants. If anything they’ll see more of the caregivers coming and going to work.”

Employees are something they should actually see more of because the new center is expected to bring at least 70 high-paying jobs to the community.

“We held a couple of neighborhood meetings to discuss the benefits of having [the Champion Center] here and answer any questions,” White said. “Residents were concerned about the possibility for an increase in criminal activity.”

He was quick to mention that a majority of the patients will be military or law enforcement personnel.

“The neighbors started to realize that it won’t be a jail and that if a patient wants to leave there’s nothing stopping them,” he said. “It’s more like Betty Ford than a state-funded treatment center.”

Because the Champion Center is voluntary and not a lockdown facility for court-ordered rehab, patients will be there because they genuinely want help and a chance at a better life.

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