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New needs drive renovation

May 1, 2010
by Keith Mason
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Livengrin moves rehab beds to residences, plans to repurpose historic manor house and wings

For more than 40 years, Livengrin Foundation (Bensalem, PA) has housed its 70 residential rehab patients in the upper floors of its historic, century-old manor house and, later, in two dorm-style wings constructed in the 1960s and 1970s. But when strategic planners evaluated the staffing, clinical, financial, and marketing demands of Livengrin's continued growth, along with the daunting costs of updating the aging dormitories into comfortable, patient-centered rooms, they decided to build new.

As a result, Livengrin's 70 licensed rehab beds will transition throughout 2010 into a trio of spacious, suburban-style houses, located on a hillside just steps from the central manor-house facility at the heart of the 41-acre campus. The three homes, together providing 18,000 square feet of living space, offer the kind of homelike, patient-centered addiction recovery facility that consumers increasingly expect.

The expansion marks the third point in the evolution of Livengrin's patient housing. Originally, the manor house at the center of the complex-once part of a huge farm-had two upper floors which had been turned into dormitories in the 1950s when a school moved onto the property.

Philadelphia advertising executive Standish Forde Hansell, who picked up the farm parcel from the school in 1963, retained those bedrooms as he fashioned the property into a “retirement getaway” where suburban gentlemen could play shuffleboard, enjoy a pastoral lifestyle, and “live and grin” into their golden years. However, motivated by several people (including, according to one legend, the influential actor/director Orson Welles), the new owner quickly turned the project into one of Pennsylvania's first nonprofit treatment centers for alcoholism. With his adman's ear for the “catchy,” Hansell kept the Livengrin name.

Livengrin's three patient residences currently under construction
Rendering by Stampfl Hartke Associates. Livengrin's three patient residences currently under construction.

The original demographic of middle-class and well-to-do white males with alcohol problems was changing with the times, as the age range moved to 18 to 80 and women began entering treatment. Two wings were added to the original manor in the late 1960s and early 1970s to accommodate the expanding patient base. One wing held dormitory-style bedrooms and offices; the other, a non-hospital detox section with 21 beds, permitting the full-time medical staff to more closely observe patients and efficiently provide services and security.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, programs expanded to include drug addiction and those with dually-diagnosed mental health issues. By the mid-2000s, while Livengrin had enlarged its network of outpatient counseling centers from four to six (spread across five counties), it became apparent that the main campus was ready for a makeover. A long-range strategic plan calls for major improvements to the dining and kitchen facilities, public entrances, parking, and traffic flow. The first component of the plan is the relocation of the rehab beds to new structures.

Improving comfort and cost efficiency

Livengrin's logo trades upon the great cultural interest to be found in its home, the traditional country manor house built almost a century before. With that history comes the plumbing; while the pipes have remained intact, they show their age and “reveal their secrets” too often. Also, each bedroom had its own window-box air conditioning to grind up the power bill. With the passing years, these utilities have become more of a challenge to both maintaining patient comfort and keeping a lid on repair and replacement costs.

Livengrin President and CEO Richard M. Pine convened study groups of administrators, staff, and consulting professionals, while also shepherding the concept through the Board of Directors and its committees.

The planning team determined that newly-built sleeping quarters would be more cost-effective than refurbishing the existing structure. In a two-pronged project, multi-bedroom residences would go up on a hillside close to the main complex, and a subsequent revamping of the previous dorm wings (along with parts of the original rooms in the manor house that held female beds) could be set up for more effective uses.

Marketing played a key role in the decision to resolve the center's housing issues with the “family dwelling,” rather than more dorms, to promote the concept that such living arrangements have more appeal than the institutional look. The new residences are expected to be a vital selling point in Livengrin's literature and Web site and also through the “word on the street” from alumni and referral sources.

“We determined that each residence would be a self-contained unit, with two patients per bedroom and bath,” explained Dr. William Lorman, Chief Clinical Officer at the Foundation. “Each will have its own kitchenette, a lounge area for socializing and limited television, meeting space for formal group interactions, laundry facility, and outdoor deck facing the quiet of the woods.” These features will enhance, but not replace, the current community activity format in which all patients share food service facilities and a common social hall for evening meetings, activities, and “free time.”