From Left to Right: (front row) Saint Michael's Medical Center CEO
Robert Iannaccone; CNO Nancy Bisco-Flora; Robin Lavorato, executive director
of the Essex Health and Wellness Recovery Center; and board members John
Cuff, retired U.S. Marshall; Jim Hunt, retired Special Agent in Charge
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Steven Kroll (back row) Susan Ferrullo,
Treasurer (partially obscured) and John Golden.
The Essex Health and Wellness Recovery Center opened in Saint Michael’s
Medical Center in Newark to provide recovery support for people struggling
to overcome alcohol and other drug addictions.
The nonprofit Recovery Center is designed to help individuals who have
completed addiction treatment or are re-entering the community after incarceration,
said Robin Lavorato, the Center’s executive director.
The Recovery Center will be on-call 24/7 to respond to emergency room needs
and will provide guidance to individuals and families looking for alcohol
and drug use detoxification and treatment. It will be the first in Essex
County to focus only on recovery, rather than clinical care.
“Those suffering from the disease of addiction may have completed
treatment, but that is normally not enough," Lavorato said. "The
recovery supports we offer will continue the care needed and hopefully
prevent further substance use."
“The Recovery Center is about post-treatment. Our recovery guides
and peer recovery specialists will work beside our participants,”
Lavorato said. “We will assist with putting lives back together
through housing search, obtaining education and employment, healthcare
referrals, parenting classes, exercise and diet advice, support groups,
workshops and trainings. We will offer sober recreation and more.”
Lavorato said the Recovery Center will also focus on prevention.
“Law enforcement is doing amazing work, the treatment providers are
innovative in their clinical care, but we need to also prevent the onset
of use,” she said. “The Recovery Center will offer prevention
programs to schools, religious organizations, workplace and other community
In 2019, there were 3,021 overdose deaths in New Jersey. Essex County has
the highest number of suspected overdose deaths in the state, with a total
of 389 in 2019 – only two less than in 2018. Heroin, fentanyl and
cocaine are the most common drugs found in people who have died in Essex
County from an overdose.
Lavorato said Essex County desperately needed a program to address the epidemic.
In June, 2018, she launched the Essex Opioid Task Force (OTF). The OTF
began with monthly meetings in different Essex County municipalities to
bring awareness to the overdose epidemic. In June, 2019 the OTF evolved
into a non-profit Essex Health and Wellness Recovery Center.
James Hunt, an Essex County resident and a retired Special Agent in Charge
of the New York Drug Enforcement Administration, is the board president
of the Recovery Center.
Monthly Community Awareness breakfasts began at Saint Michael’s,
where attendees hear about law enforcement’s initiatives to motivate
offenders into treatment, treatment provider’s services and programs,
and community support organizations.
“Most importantly, we hear from families who have lost loved ones,
in an effort to truly understand what may have been a barrier to recovery,”
Lavorato said. “And we applaud and learn from individuals who are
The OTF and the Recovery Center have also trained police, school staff,
sober living homes and others in the administration of Naloxone, a medication
that may reverse an opioid overdose.
The OTF and Recovery Center have also responded to families, law enforcement,
healthcare providers and others in assisting in motivating individuals
into detox or treatment and assisting in finding the proper placement
to be assessed. They have provided workshops, trainings and attended health
fairs. They have also worked with Montclair High School students in creating
an opioid awareness documentary, “Not My Choice”.
While the community awareness breakfasts were a great way to share information,
Lavarato said she and her volunteers were working remotely in assisting
law enforcement, schools, and community members. She felt a permanent
location in Essex County was needed to provide services to more people.
Lavorato said she wanted to create a program similar to the Recovery Centers
in surrounding counties. Union County’s Experience, Strength and
Hope Recovery Center and Morris County’s Sheriff Gannon’s
Recovery Initiatives have been a great support to the endeavor, she said.
Saint Michael’s CEO Robert Iannaccone, who attended many of the task
forces’ breakfasts, said he offered some surplus office space in
the hospital temporarily free of charge to help the program get its start.
“There is definitely a need in our community for the valuable services
being offered by the Center,” Iannaccone said. “Since our
mission is to meet the healthcare needs of our community, it makes sense
for us to help get this Center off the ground.”
The Center will be funded through private grants and donations and has
not yet sought government funding. Its services will be provided free
Saint Michael’s also offers an intensive outpatient substance abuse
program for patients who are suffering from substance abuse and other
co-occurring disorders as well as an outpatient therapeutic program.