By Jane Smith
After 35 years in the addictions treatment industry, Nancy Steiner should be able to retire at 71, feeling good about the lives she helped to save.
As founder and manager of the Sanctuary, a high-end trio of recovery residences in Delray Beach, she has helped 250 people who have passed through in search of sobriety during its nearly 13 years of existence. Each residence houses five people.
But her retirement will be bittersweet.
When the Crossroads at Antigua Foundation board members met in July, they decided to close the Sanctuary in December when the last residents leave, citing Steiner’s retirement and the recovery industry’s troubles in Delray Beach.
The foundation plans to sell the homes and use the money to provide scholarships to its Crossroads Centre facility located on Antigua in the West Indies. The foundation owns the Delray Beach property and supports the operation of the Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary’s homes were not yet on the market as of late November. The county Property Appraiser’s Office has valued them between $396,729 for the smallest one to $567,091 for the largest. Homes usually sell for more than the market values set by the Property Appraiser’s Office.
“The main thing was that Nancy was retiring,” said Nicos Peraticos, CEO of the Crossroads Centre.
The Antigua center has a detox unit with a full-time nursing staff and a full-time physician, Steiner said. It also has 30 beds in two wings for sober living, allowing men to sleep separately from women. Guitarist Eric Clapton, who struggles with substance abuse, founded the center in 1998.
The month before the board members met, two national news outlets ran stories about patient brokering and other abusive practices in the recovery industry in Delray Beach.
“We considered [Delray] a dangerous environment that we did not want to continue in,” Peraticos said.
NBC Sunday Night News led its June 25 broadcast with Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg — who has received state money to create a Sober Homes Task Force. He said “most of the apples are rotten” when talking about the drug rehab business in South Florida.
The same month, The New York Times ran a story that called Delray Beach the relapse capital of the country. Poorly run treatment centers have been proven to be making more money off drug addicts who relapse than recover.
Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein was interviewed for both reports. He still considers Delray Beach to be “very dangerous” and would advise any parents outside the immediate area not to send their children here for recovery help.
Stopping bad operators
The city and state are working to keep the “bad actors” from running treatment centers and sober homes.
“We and every other city absolutely need ethical patient-driven recovery/treatment providers, like the Sanctuary,” Glickstein wrote in a November email. “Part of the problem with the tidal wave of unscrupulous profit-over-patient operators is that it has made it more difficult for the responsible operators to work.”
Aronberg also is tempering his message, said Al Johnson, his chief assistant who runs the Sober Homes Task Force.
“The Sanctuary closing is a sad byproduct of this environment with 592 overdose deaths countywide last year,” Johnson said. “We are turning the corner. It’s like trying to turn a battleship, it goes slowly.”
Steiner sits on the Sober Homes Task Force and on the Delray Beach Drug Task Force.
Before running the Sanctuary, Steiner spent three years working at the Antigua Crossroads as clinical outreach and marketing director.
Steiner and her husband bought three Delray Beach homes between 2004 and 2006 and turned them into recovery residences. Then, the Crossroads foundation purchased the Osceola Park homes and asked Steiner to run them.
Residents pay $4,700 a month. The cost covers a double room, linens, towels, a beach towel, and laundry and cleaning supplies. Each person is responsible for his own meals, except for the Sunday night community meal that is mandatory.
“Ninety-five percent of what we have is structure and accountability,” Steiner said. “I knew treatment alone was just not enough — keeping them ‘planted in recovery’ and using the tools they learned in treatment was the continuum of care needed.”
A New Jersey native, Steiner received her nursing degree from Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. Her addictions industry career began in 1981 when she worked as a detox nurse in a Peoria, Ill., hospital.
She moved to Florida in 1993 to become nursing director at the now-closed Comprehensive Alcoholism Rehabilitation Programs in West Palm Beach. She later worked at Fair Oaks Pavilion, Hanley Hazelden and LifeSkills South Florida.
Steiner served on the original board of the National Association of Recovery Residences. She founded the Florida Association of Recovery Residences, helped to write its standards and served two years as its president.
Standards, structure pay off
One of these standards involves being a good neighbor. Steiner wanted the Sanctuary to have a low profile and insisted that its van and residents’ vehicles park in the rear of the homes. To give back to the community, residents help to clean a nearby city park each week, Steiner said.
A few years after the Sanctuary opened, one of the homes housed women, but it now caters to men only. The homes are certified, registered with the city, operate on an all-cash basis and provide residents with sober living and life skills.
Sanctuary residents don’t overwhelm the city’s public safety departments with overdose calls. In the past three years, no emergency calls were made to the Sanctuary addresses, according to the Delray Beach Police Department.
Vice Mayor Jim Chard, who lives next door to the Sanctuary homes, was initially disappointed that his neighbors were transient residents. Sanctuary clients must stay for three months but the average stay is six months, Steiner said.
“My thinking has evolved over time,” Chard said. “I got to know the management and they are very committed to their profession. … They go beyond what is required for their residents.”