Open Door has been a labor of love

By Barbara Royal

I believe love, compassion and truth provide the best opportunity for healing all wounds. Open Door Recovery Center’s mission never excluded anyone from receiving services, regardless of their ability to pay. Since Bill Hills founded Open Door in 1984, we have given hundreds of thousands worth of services to those with no financial resources, all being treated with dignity. We are known as unusual in that longevity of staff is decade’s and told by hundreds the atmosphere is one of warmth and love. Staff’s dedication for treating those suffering is immeasurable. Bill’s vision carried Open Door through 35 years of service for thousands. In 2016, we opened Hills House for pregnant and parenting women, believing primary prevention begins with babies and young children.

Funding has been a constant battle. A foundation decided not to follow through with a $250,000 grant, intended for the first year, as we were accepting pregnant incarcerated women on bed to bed transfers. The state informed us it was not providing contracts/funding for residential treatment. The MaineCare rate for outpatient is $100 per day, while the MaineCare rate for 24-hour treatment is $103 per day. In August 2017, we began closing Hills House due to insufficient funding. The state was notified and clients transitioned.

I was contacted by a donor from Florida who insisted we stay open, avowing he planned to fund the program both short and long term, stating he valued how we helped those who cannot afford treatment. I notified the state, began taking referrals, and eventually Hills House was full again. Re-establishing took months. Then this donor discontinued funding, leaving us underfunded and short-staffed again. If not for the amazing employees and their commitment to Hills House we would’ve closed long ago. We managed to make the impossible possible, until recently.

I became director of Open Door Recovery Center as a promise to Bill Hills and a vote from the board in 1999, when Bill was diagnosed with and passed away from lung cancer. Until two years ago, I was able to manage administration while simultaneously providing treatment. Inadequate funding resulted in very long hours 365 days per year. Our dedication to clients, their families and the community took precedence. Most of our clients had needs systems do not fill. One of our top priorities has been to fill as many of those gaps as possible in order to create the best possible chance for success; which takes an unimaginable amount of time. Dedication and passion do not pay bills, yet without this the chance for recidivism and tragedy is much greater.

If my heart were a brain, I may have been able to pull it off. I pleaded with the state repeatedly over the past two years to work with us to help make this possible and sustainable, to no avail. I struggled in the race to keep up with documentation for several months; however, I know in my heart I have always put the clients first. The state no longer wanted to work with me. To protect Open Door, I left; they closed it anyway.

An idealist expects a high level of collaboration and support, just simply because it is the right thing to do. My hope is the state will add components to oversight procedures not currently in place. We have been told by them they know there are others that do not provide the same good treatment Open Door provides, yet have great recordkeeping and therefore do not have the issues we are facing.

If keeping a promise, compassion, love and commitment were recognized as justification for funding, we would’ve been rich. I do not deny the importance of staying current with documentation. I also recognize how imperative it is for the state to shore up the folks who are on the front line with adequate funding and support to allow for the balance between the two.

It has been an honor and a privilege to serve those who have worked so hard to begin their recovery journeys. Each and every one of you has been a gift. Hold on to everything you have learned, for you deserve nothing less than the miracles that come with recovery.


Barbara Royal is the former executive director of Open Door Recovery Center and Hills House in Ellsworth.


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