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From bed-and-breakfast to treatment center

January 1, 2007
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A former country inn offers a rehabilitative setting for substance use treatment

This past summer, Harvard Medical School affiliate McLean Hospital opened the McLean Center at Fernside, a residential treatment program for individuals with substance use disorders, as well as those with co-occurring psychiatric illnesses. In addition to using empirically tested, evidence-based treatment methods and strategies, the program uses its bucolic setting to aid in the recovery process.

The Center is nestled in the quaint and quiet town of Princeton, Massachusetts, with sweeping views of Mount Wachusett to the west and glimpses of the Boston skyline to the east. The Center is located in an elegant Federal-style mansion constructed in 1835. The building most recently housed a bed-and-breakfast and was listed on the Select Registry as a Distinguished Inn of North America.

The mansion's rich history played a prominent role in the hospital's selection as the venue for the new program, according to Philip Levendusky, PhD, vice-president of new business development for McLean Hospital. “For 100 years, before it was a bed-and-breakfast, Fernside provided affordable summer vacations for female factory workers from Boston through the Women's Education and Industrial Union of Boston. Once I learned that this house had a history of providing respite and healing, I knew we had found the perfect place to establish our program,” says Dr. Levendusky.

Photos courtesy of McLean Hospital.

When McLean purchased the Fernside Inn and its surrounding 15 acres in 2005, it made a commitment to preserve the inn's integrity and chose not to make any major renovations, save for a few cosmetic changes and converting the third story into office space. Today, the building looks much like it did 172 years ago. Additionally, the hospital intentionally retained “Fernside” in the program name to honor and continue the rich history of the building.

Throughout the 8,700-square-foot, three-story building are large windows allowing for bright sunshine to flood the indoors and to provide spectacular views of the surrounding woodlands. Beautifully detailed heart pine hardwood floors and antiques complement the mansion's warmly furnished interior. These amenities help the Center achieve a sense of homelike comfort, which, Dr. Levendusky says, is crucial to the Center's treatment philosophy.

The spacious first floor houses the program's common areas, including group meeting rooms, a dining room, a kitchen, and an expansive veranda that runs the length of the building, overlooking acres of open space. The meeting areas and veranda have been furnished with comfortable chairs and tables conducive to casual interactions and relaxing, while the dining room has a large antique mahogany table that encourages community meals.

Upon entering the program, patients are assigned to one of the eight well-appointed bedrooms on the second floor, each with its own theme and personality. For example, one has rich-colored walls, deep-pile oriental rugs, and a four-post queen-size bed, while another is decorated in gentle peach hues and offers a breathtaking valley view. Some rooms are subtler, with soft white, lace-trimmed bed linens and antique wall sconces


“When patients are comfortable in their surroundings, they are more responsive to our clinical approach,” explains Fernside Program Director Thomas Irwin, PhD. “In that way, the environment really influences treatment.”

This sense of home, comfort, and tranquility are key, emphasizes Roger Weiss, MD, clinical director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Program at McLean Hospital. “The philosophy of the program rests heavily on the rehabilitation and restorative model, where patients stay for an extended period while accessing comprehensive treatment in a restful atmosphere,” says Dr. Weiss.

The Center's 15 acres of private grounds are threaded with hiking trails, and adjacent to the main house is a renovated building that will be outfitted with an exercise room, complete with state-of-the-art cardiovascular and strength-training equipment. Less than a mile away is Wachusett Mountain State Reservation, which offers patients an additional 17 miles of public hiking and ski trails.

“Our unique location on the side of a mountain is proving to be a valuable component to our treatment milieu,” says Dr. Irwin. “The fresh air, open space, and ample recreational opportunities give our patients the sense of wellness and healing that is so important in the recovery process.”

Adriana Bobinchock is the Assistant Director of Public Affairs for McLean Hospital.