The 72-acre, sprawling campus of Lakeview NeuroRehabilitation Center - with about a dozen buildings overlooking lakes and mountains - has always been used as a place to treat people with brain injuries or developmental disabilities. But there has always been controversy too.
In 1992 the FBI raided the site when they suspected the original owners of fraud. And then last year, after the Disability Rights Center put out a scathing report on Lakeview’s practices, the state shut it down. The place was notorious for poor care. But Eric Spofford hopes to change all that.
"What I would say is this isn’t the same song, different verse," says Spofford. "This is an entirely different album."
Spofford plans to open Green Mountain Treatment Center on the former Lakeview grounds. The Effingham facility has been vacant since regulators shut it down last year. The center will operate a 30 to 90-day residential program for up to 75 men and women who are dealing with addiction – from heroin to painkillers to alcohol.
"So the entire management staff is different, and most of the direct care staff is as well," says Spofford. "Not to mention that we’re treating an entirely new population."
Spofford knows something about that population. Since 2008 he’s run Granite House in Derry, a sober living facility for young men in long-term recovery. In 2015 he opened a 20-bed inpatient facility called New Freedom Academy in Canterbury. And then there’s his personal story.
"I was one of the, I guess you could call it, the pioneers of the opioid epidemic in the late 90s when, at 14, I tried my first OxyContin, which almost immediately started an opioid addiction, which escalated to heroin as it does for so many," says Spofford.
Spofford used heroin until he was 21 years old, when he found long-term recovery. He’s now 30 and his business is growing fast as the state scrambles to create more treatment for opioid addicts. New Hampshire is ranked 49th in the country for access to drug treatment.
A Political Moment
The huge spike in opioid deaths in New Hampshire has given Spofford’s business a political boost. Senator Kelly Ayotte invited him to D.C. to testify before a Senate committee last month. Ayotte said Spofford's recovery story "shows you that there is hope."
And Spofford secured the Lakeview facility with the help of Governor Hassan’s outgoing drug czar, Jack Wozmak.
"My connection was that I was loath to see what seemed to be a relatively good facility lay dormant at a time when we had this need," says Wozmak.
The drug czar put Spofford in touch with Lakeview, and they quickly made a deal.
Spofford gave me a peek at the 69-page lease and sales agreement. Lakeview’s owner – a man named Chris Slover in Austin, Texas – will be the landlord until Spofford has the money to buy the place outright, something Spofford hopes happens this year. Local tax records indicate the land and buildings are assessed at about $5,566,100. Spofford says he’s begun extensive renovations at the facility.
No Beds in Carroll County - Yet
This pending sale would mark a change for not only this facility, but for Carroll County as well. Lakeview employed 350 people, making it one of the largest employers in the region. Green Mountain Treatment Center will employ about 100, including a few former Lakeview staff. This will bring desperately-needed treatment for addiction to a rural part of the state.
Jennifer Selfridge, the regional prevention coordinator for Carroll County, says there are no inpatient treatment beds for addiction in the county.
"The nature of the problem here is no better, no worse than anywhere else in the state of New Hampshire. But because we’re primarily a rural set of communities, it’s hit us very hard," Selfridge says.
Spofford says training for 60 employees starts this Monday, and new clients will arrive the following week. The facility still doesn’t have a license from the state, but Spofford says regulators have assured him it’s being expedited.
Treatment at Green Mountain will cost around $15,000 per month, and the facility will accept private pay and commercial insurance. Spofford says he’s looking into accepting Medicaid.
Eric Spofford himself seems a little surprised at how fast he’s gone from heroin addict to opioid treatment entrepreneur.
"Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that it would have grown the way it has," says Spofford, "and position me to be in a place of opening these programs and have a purpose in combating the opioid epidemic that spiraled out of control."
As Spofford’s business expands, Lakeview’s has followed an even faster decline. Just over a year ago, Lakeview owned the 88-bed facility in Effingham, plus 55 more beds in eight group homes throughout eastern New Hampshire. The company now holds on to one building in Effingham with about a dozen empty, unlicensed beds.
Lakeview is in the midst of a lengthy appeals process with the Department of Health and Human Services about the revocation of its license, with a hearing scheduled for next week.