C, a Maple Valley mother of two who asked that only her first initial be used, is familiar with the ins and outs of rehab facilities. Her daughter lives with a heroin addiction, and her son uses heroin, meth, and “whatever he can get his hands on.” Her son had enrolled in the Seattle Drug and Narcotic Center—also known as Seadrunar—for drug treatment therapy in January, while her daughter attended the program for about a week in 2016. Following continuous confrontations with staff, C said her daughter was released from the program a few days after arriving. C took issue with the facility discharging her daughter without a proper contingency plan. Moreover, she found it difficult to gather information from staff about her daughter. “I understand getting her clean, but what’s the game plan after that? You can’t just clean a kid up and have them hit the streets. They’d go right back to the life they led,” C said.
Adult clients who enter Seadrunar are offered a chance to start their lives anew and to improve their parenting skills if they have children. Seadrunar is known for its 40-year history as a long-term recovery program and its reputation for imparting lifelong skills to its residents. But public records and interviews with former clients reveal an alternative narrative that calls into question the competence, efficacy, and intentions of the program alongside allegations of exploitation and assault.
Founded in 1968 by Nan Busby, Seadrunar uses a therapeutic community model to help clients recognize destructive patterns and develop positive coping strategies through the help of chemical dependency professionals or trainees, as well as outside mental-health and medical providers.
Low-income clients who qualify for Medicaid receive the program for free, but otherwise attendees are charged a daily rate between $54 and $350 depending on the program, according to Seadrunar. Reviews for the facility on Google, Yelp, and Facebook have mostly lauded the treatment center, but amid the glowing evaluations are several claims of clients being used for “slave labor” in the recycling program and staff using intimidation tactics to keep clients in line. “This place does nothing but prey on the addicted to use as work horses (slaves) for profit not only in house but for the family run recycling plant. I can say this being I spent 14 months dealing with the ridiculous antics at this facility. The counseling is a joke with only one Certified dependency counselor and the other wannabes are former clients who have completed the program,” one former client posted on Rehabreviews.com in 2016.
C was unsure if her daughter had worked at the recycling program, but believes that the lack of adequate support and safety for clients isn’t unique to any one rehab program. “There’s a big hole in the system,” she said. “And it’s unfortunate that these kids—chronic reoffenders—don’t get the help that they need.” She noted that the more than a dozen rehab facilities her 29-year-old daughter has entered throughout the years have also lacked a sufficient plan that ensured clients would adhere to the coping strategies that could turn their lives around for good.
A recent settlement between Seadrunar and a minor who visited the facility also highlighted the potential lack of oversight that could place children at risk. During the weekends around 2008 to 2009, a young girl between the ages of 7 and 9 would visit her biological father at Seadrunar, where he was receiving drug treatment therapy. The facility’s family-services program allows children from infancy to age 12 to join their parents in drug and alcohol treatment with the aim of fostering “positive parent-child interaction and stronger parental skills,” according to Seadrunar’s website.
But instead of leaving the program with a stronger bond with her father, a lawsuit filed on Oct. 2, 2017, stated that the experience left the child with “mental anguish and emotional distress.” Referred to as J.M.A. in King County Superior Court records, the child was required to stay with her father despite multiple requests that she stay in the facility’s female wing. During those weekends at the center, the lawsuit stated that J.M.A.’s father and several other men at the facility sexually abused her. (Seattle Weekly has chosen not to include the name of the client, as the case involves a minor.) On Nov. 1, 2018, Seadrunar agreed to a settlement of $1 million, over half of which would be distributed in a trust for J.M.A.
“Seadrunar does not admit wrongdoing or liability in agreeing to settle. We are strongly committed to providing a supportive environment for men, women, and their families, struggling with addiction,” Seadrunar’s Executive Director Sheri Healey wrote in an email to Seattle Weekly. “We wanted to put the litigation, involving disputed allegations from a decade ago, behind us and this was the most expeditious path to do so.”
Clients and their family members weren’t the only ones concerned about Seadrunar’s family-services and work-based program. Emails among Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) officials a month after the lawsuit was filed alleged issues that required further investigation. The concerns included children residing in rooms with other adults who were not related to them, misappropriation of clients’ food stamps, vulnerable clients being exploited in the work-based drug-rehab center, and inadequate staff training. Exacerbating the concern about possible exploitation was the Seadrunar staff’s estimate that over half of the clients were homeless.
The work-based rehab program also created a hierarchy based on the clients’ duties, a DSHS official wrote in a Nov. 13, 2017 email acquired by Seattle Weekly through a public records request. The only clients who didn’t work at the recycling center were those in the program for a week or less, or who worked in the kitchen or maintenance, the official noted. She questioned whether working at the recycling program was truly voluntary, given that “[Substance Use Disorder] clients are a vulnerable population and there is concern they are being exploited.”
J.M.A. wasn’t the only child at the facility whose sleeping arrangements raised concern. In the email, the DSHS official mentioned the child of a worker who would likely be asleep and unsupervised by the parent during work hours. A follow-up email dated on Jan. 31, 2018, said the parent was in fact live-in staff and not a client; moreover, the facility adhered to state law that stipulated a child is permitted to stay with a parent residing at a rehab center if the caretaker is not receiving withdrawal-management services.
Another investigation initiated in November 2017, involved allegations that an adult client also faced sexual assault at the facility. According to a Nov. 22 email sent between Snohomish County Superior Court Family Drug Court Coordinator Edmund Smith and a DSHS official, a Seadrunar client in the inpatient treatment program whose name was redacted from the public records alleged that another client entered the person’s bedroom and masturbated. The alleged victim left the room to inform Seadrunar staff of the assault, but according to the report, employees asserted that “it was an internal matter” and that the police should not be called.
The reports do not indicate how the alleged assault was resolved. But despite the multiple investigations and the lawsuit coursing through the state and counties, the King County Superior Court continued to refer patients to the rehab center during that time. In an email to Seattle Weekly, King County Superior Court Deputy Director Teresa Bailey stated that the court referred 16 people to the program, along with three clients who were already enrolled, from Jan. 23, 2017, to Jan. 23, 2019. “This office has not received complaints or conducted investigations about the program,” Bailey added.
What also remains unclear is whether Seadrunar has adjusted its family-services program following the settlement, as staff did not respond to questions concerning the allegation. A copy of Seadrunar’s corrective action plan approved on June 10, 2018, by the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery (DBHR)—then under the purview of DSHS—showed that the facility has made efforts to address issues raised by oversight agencies. A Dec. 2017 email sent between Seadrunar’s Family Services Director Melody Little and a DSHS official also indicated that the facility canceled its child-care license “as we do not provide child care. The parent is responsible for the care of their child,” she wrote.
In response to DBHR’s Dec. 1, 2017, onsite survey of Seadrunar that indicated the potential for clients to be retaliated against, the facility’s staff promised to remove “all visual, functional, and other interventions that may be deemed retaliatory,” according to the corrective action plan. Seadrunar’s plan also stated that clients are not coerced to participate in the volunteer recycling program. Proceeds from Seadrunar Recycling LLC do not support the treatment facility, the plan continued, although the work-based program does provide some funding for clothing, recreational activities, and improvements to the facility.
Despite the allegations of exploitation and assault that occurred under staff’s watch, some former Seadrunar clients said that the program changed their lives for the better. In 2011, Dario Meguire was headed toward a court-ordered drug-rehab program when he elected to enroll at Seadrunar. His heroin and meth addiction had spun out of control, and he hoped to absolve himself of theft charges by entering treatment. “The whole treatment facility is set up like a giant family,” Meguire said. “I know I was looking for my family when I came in off the streets. So any tools they had at their disposal, whether it was communication or how you take constructive criticism, all these factors played a part in their overall treatment plan.”
Over the 11 months that he was enrolled in the program, Meguire said that Seadrunar’s cornerstone method of behavior modification amplified his awareness of his surroundings. Regular one-on-one sessions with his counselor helped him address grief and loss that he was previously unable to process. Meguire decided to volunteer at Seadrunar Recycling, and noted that staff never pressured him or other clients to work there. Overall, Meguire called his experience a positive one that helped steer him toward his current path of sobriety. “If you’re really trying to get sober and you’re really trying to put your best foot forward, [Seadrunar] would still be one of the first treatments that I would recommend to someone,” he said. “They kind of turned the light on for me. I haven’t given up since then.”
This story was based in part on ongoing reporting by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit investigative newsroom. To learn more about the reporting network and how to get involved, head to revealnews.org/network. Do you have experience with a work-based rehab program? Submit a tip to Reveal’s survey.
Feb. 13 Update: The story has been amended to include a statement from Seadrunar.