By David Greenberg, South Miami Recovery Social Media and Blog Writer | South Florida
Note: This is the third in a series of articles about Miami’s long history with drugs and drug treatment.
The State of South Miami
As Miami and Miami Beach glowed in the national spotlight as a result of the hit TV show Miami Vice and the movie Scarface, dance clubs like Mutiny in Coconut Grove were the places to be and be seen. Cocaine and Dom Perignon flowed freely – a tiny silver spoon around each person’s neck was almost an unspoken part of the dress code.
Changing public perception was a challenge, because Miami’s economy was floating on the illicit drug culture and cash.
At the center of this growing drug problem, a small community hospital in South Miami would become a nationally recognized leader in the field of addiction medicine.
Community and Hope at South Miami Hospital
The community and the companies that supported Miami’s growth were desperate to find help for their struggling young employees caught up in the fast lifestyle. Leading the way were companies like Eastern and Pan Am airlines, who were among the first to recognize addiction as an illness and supported the concept of their employees entering treatment.
Those fortunate employees would find themselves at South Miami Hospital. Originally opened in 1960 as a 100-bed hospital, today it is an almost 500-bed facility as part of the Baptist Health South Florida system.
South Miami Hospital was quickly gaining national recognition largely because of the efforts of Dr. Dolores Morgan, who was hired in 1976 to start what was then called the South Miami Hospital Alcohol Treatment program. The inpatient unit that started as a 20-bed facility, 28-day program, became the Addiction Treatment Program, and was later to be named on the list of best treatment centers nationally. The hiring of Dr. Morgan was a pivotal moment in the lives of many of these people seeking recovery in South Miami and the greater Miami area, including me.
She not only made Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous integral parts of the treatment, she established relationships with longer-term facilities in Miami and elsewhere for recovering addicts to receive ongoing treatment.
Dr. Morgan’s own experience and education made her keenly aware of the challenges facing potential recovering addicts when they came into the hospital’s addiction treatment program. As a result, she had a message for each and every one of them.
Meeting Dr. Morgan
It was common for the patients in the Addiction Treatment Program to gather weekly for an assembly of sorts. This way, new people who may have still been in the detox part of treatment were able to interact with others who were already focused on rehab and might even be leaving the 28-day inpatient program in the coming days.
I actually missed Dr. Morgan at the assembly that took place during my first week in the hospital. Dr. Morgan was away, so her colleague, Dr. Jules Trop, made the presentation.
A week later, upon her return, I got to hear Dr. Morgan utter an ominous message during those assemblies. She would say, “Look to the person on your left. Now, look to the person on your right. In a year from now two of the three of you are likely to have relapsed.”
It was also during my second week in the hospital that I got to experience how serious Dr. Morgan was about recovery for her patients. With more than a little fear and trepidation, I was told to go see her because I missed her that first week. She asked me what I thought about my addiction and my recovery. Being a bit of a wise guy, I told her what I thought should happen after my 28 days – a return to the community. But she set me straight, suggesting that I would need longer term treatment at another institution. I spent the next three weeks in fear that she was going to send me away for six months.
Possibly as a way to test her message about two out of three patients relapsing within a year, Dr. Morgan instituted reunions for recovering addicts who went through her treatment programs at South Miami and later at Mount Sinai Hospital. These annual reunions also helped create a bond of fellowship as individuals were able to reunite with those who were in a shared community when they originally got clean.
So, I was once again in fear when I got a call from Dr. Morgan about 10 months later. But I was surprised, humbled and honored when she asked me to be one of the keynote speakers at my first reunion.
Drs. Morgan and Trop left South Miami to start the program at Mount Sinai in 1984. Afterwards, South Miami did not miss a beat; the people who followed them were equally serious about the importance of saving lives through addiction treatment.
Leaders After Dr. Morgan
Dr. Lynn Hankes became the program director when they left and served in that role for a decade until 1993. Like his predecessors, Dr. Hankes came well qualified to run this program that was so important in the lives of so many recovering addicts. Dr. Hankes was among the 100 pioneer physicians in the country certified in Addiction Medicine back in 1983 and was an honored Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
While Dr. Hankes’ primary focus during his time in South Miami was to run the hospital’s Addiction Treatment Program, he is credited for something else that leaves a legacy in our community. Dr Hankes, a graduate of Notre Dame, served as the volunteer chemical dependency consultant for University of Miami athletics starting in 1987. At the time, the two football programs were bitter rivals, so it is not surprising that during the flight home from a football game in South Bend, several football players offered jokingly (we hope) to throw him out of the plane. Fortunately for us all, they did not.
When Dr. Hankes left, Rick Wolfson became the clinical director of South Miami’s Addiction Treatment Program. He served in that role until 2007. As a result, he was very involved in the start of the hospital’s outpatient program and later added the residential program.
But more than that, Rick had 34 years of recovery when he passed away in 2017. In those years, both in his role at the hospital and as a visible member of the recovery community in South Miami, he helped thousands of other addicts along their own journey of recovery.
Among those who were on the journey of recovery was Howard Lerner, our own chief executive officer. At the age of 31, Howard hit his own bottom. Like many others, his career path took him into the field of recovery.
In 1987, he became a counselor at Mt. Sinai Hospital with Dr. Morgan and then at South Miami Hospital in 1989. Howard has been working with recovering addicts ever since.
Starting in 2 Tower at South Miami Hospital during the days of the inpatient program, he later led the transition to the outpatient and residential program, which he led until he left the hospital in 2012 to start South Miami Recovery.
In our upcoming final article, we will look at the transition to outpatient and our program at South Miami Recovery and our efforts to reinstitute one of Dr. Morgan’s legacies.
South Miami Recovery is a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center located in Miami, Florida. To learn more about our unique approach to recovery, call 305-661-0055 today.
David Greenberg is a recovering addict celebrating 34 years of recovery. He got his start in recovery at Mount Sinai Hospital and Concept House and remains active following a 12-step lifestyle.