Rushford was founded in 1975 started as Tri-County Alcohol Council by a group of concerned Middlesex County citizens. Its purpose was to provide information on alcohol abuse and alcoholism and to act as a catalyst in developing services to prevent and treat alcoholism in Middlesex County. As Tri-County Alcohol Council, the agency and its three employees found a home for their start-up non-profit on the second floor of the South Congregational Church Parish House at 21 Pleasant Street, Middletown. In October of that year, Cal Ubaldi was hired as the organization’s first director.

In 1977, Tri-County expanded its role in Middletown, providing employee assistance programming in the form of evaluation and counseling to small businesses in the area, and also received a federal grant to provide outpatient aftercare to support recovering alcoholics in order to ease their transition back into the community. Tri-County moved its offices around the corner to 77 Crescent Street.

From 1979 to 1982, Tri-County continued to grow and expand under the guidance of Executive Director Jeff Walter, who took the helm of the organization in November 1979. Walter worked closely with one part-time employee and a group of volunteers to begin a Family Counseling Program as well as the Student Assistance Program, training teachers in area school systems on the signs of alcohol abuse.

In 1982, Tri-County opened a 22-bed residential alcoholism treatment center, with financial assistance from a special grant provided by the Connecticut General Assembly. The center was named for Gus Rushford, a Portland resident, recovering alcoholic and tireless Tri-County volunteer who had spent three decades personally helping hundreds of suffering individuals recover from alcoholism. Gus is credited with starting Middletown’s first Alcoholics Anonymous group in 1952.[1] His long-standing dream was to open a “recovery halfway house” for alcoholics in Middletown.

The Gus Rushford Treatment Center opened as an alternative to the Connecticut Valley Hospital’s alcohol unit, and was based upon the belief that recovery is most effectively accomplished in a community-based setting. The center offered short-term detoxification and three-week intensive treatment programming which included counseling and AA meetings. A three-to-six month halfway house program also offered recovering alcoholics the opportunity to work during the day and return to an alcohol-free environment in the evening. The fledgling operation was judged a success based upon an independent study commissioned by the Connecticut State Legislature in 1984.

During the 1980s, Tri-County developed a prevention and early intervention Student Assistance Program. With a challenge grant from Middlesex United Way, the program was able to expand throughout the public high school in Middlesex County.

Tri-County’s growth continued for the remainder of the 1980s, with the opening of a central intake and triage unit, relieved most unnecessary hospital emergency department visits, and the expansion of the Gus Rushford Treatment Center to 30 beds.

In 1987, Tri-County’s Board of Directors changed the organization’s name to Rushford Center, at the same time broadening the mission to recognize alcohol and other drug use prevention and treatment. The Student Assistance and Employee Assistance programs moved to rented offices at 60 Washington Street and expanded to include outpatient services teens, called Positive Step.

With two separate sites now open, and the need for services continuing to grow, the time had come to bring all Rushford programs under one roof. State lawmakers and several state departments, recognizing Rushford’s success, were eager to help, offering more than $2 million between 1988 and 1990 for the purpose of purchasing a new facility. Rushford officials eagerly launched a capital campaign to raise additional funds that resulted in the purchase of the former Town Farms Inn on Silver Street in Middletown in 1990. With the dawn of the new decade, Rushford’s employees numbered nearly 50, and afforded the organization the opportunity to again expand programming, this time to include an outpatient treatment program for recovering substance users- both adults and teens- that allowed them to receive treatment and remain at home and employed.

National recognition of quality of care came to Rushford in 1991, when it received full accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. That year also marked the opening of the area’s first evening and extended partial hospital and intensive outpatient programs, offering additional treatment options and flexibility to those seeking treatment and successful recovery.

The 1990s again marked a period of rapid growth for Rushford, with an eye toward substantially increasing the programming it could bring to the full continuum of treatment and recovery services. In 1993, Rushford assumed operation of Middlesex Hospital’s Substance Abuse Outpatient Clinic, began a daytime partial hospitalization program, and increased its halfway house bed capacity from 12 to 22. In 1997, it opened a satellite office in Glastonbury, offering the full range of outpatient recovery services for teens and adults, and established ambulatory detoxification services at its Middletown facility

Such rapid growth again required a capital campaign that started in 1998, this time to renovate and add 5,000 square feet to the Town Farms site, which was fully achieved in 2000. Also in 1998, Rushford joined Hartford HealthCare, an affiliation that continues today, providing opportunities for continued growth and integration with physical health care. Based on a growing understanding of the impact of co-occurring substance use and mental health disorder among Rushford’s client population, the organization expanded its mission to encompass the prevention and treatment of the full range of behavioral health conditions.

In 2000, Rushford assumed the operation and management of two children’s programs formerly operated by the Curtis Home of Meriden, including a residential treatment program for abused and traumatized boys and the Safe Harbors Program, for children who have been removed from their homes by the Connecticut Department of Children and Families due to suspected neglect or abuse. The following year, Rushford entered into a management contract to administer MidState Behavioral Health System, a subsidiary of MidState Medical Center, and by 2003, these outpatient mental health and substance use services for the Meriden and Wallingford communities had found a new home at Rushford. With this merger, Rushford became the Local Mental Health Authority for the local area, under contract with the State Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

In July 2004, Rushford again experienced a significant expansion of programming with the assumption of behavioral healthcare treatment programs from the Saint Francis Care system, including Stonehaven, a 26-bed adult substance use treatment program in Portland as well as a range of adult and teen outpatient treatment programs that would were consolidated into Rushford’s continuum of care in Middletown and Meriden.

In 2005, Rushford leaders were active in a statewide advocacy effort to “carve-out” behavioral health services under Medicaid so that they could be more effectively administered by a single entity that would promote improved access and quality of care for consumers. The Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership was established by the state legislature in 2006 and Jeffrey Walter was named to co-chair the oversight council with State Senator Christopher Murphy.

That same year, J. Craig Allen, MD became Rushford’s first Chief Medical Officer. Under Dr. Allen’s leadership, Rushford developed medical and psychiatric services to more effectively treat complex co-occurring conditions experienced by many of the organization’s clients. Rushford became a training site for psychiatric residents from Hartford Hospital/Institute of Living, physician assistant students from several area colleges, and medical technician students. In 2011, Dr. Vincent McClain began a year-long post-graduate fellowship in addiction medicine at Rushford. In 2013, under the leadership of Dr. McClain and Rushford’s Addictions Medical Director, Dr. Samuel Silverman, Rushford received accreditation for a national post-doctoral fellowship by the American Board of Addiction Medicine, becoming the first community-based treatment provider in the country to be so recognized.

In 2010, Rushford opened a 16-bed, intensive residential treatment center in Durham, CT for teen boys with serious substance use and co-occurring mental health conditions. The program became known as Rushford at Stonegate and represented the only program of its kind operating in the State.

Rushford undertook a major initiative to educate the community about psychiatric and substance use disorders when, beginning in 2010, the organization launched Mental Health First Aid in central Connecticut. Sponsored across the country by the National Council for Behavioral Health, MHFA teaches members of the community how to recognize the signs of a mental health or substance use condition and intervene to get help before a crisis occurs. As of the beginning of 2014, Rushford has trained many individuals in Mental Health First Aid, including first responders such as police, emergency medical technicians, and fire fighters, teachers, other care givers, and parents.

Seeking to continue expansion of its community education and prevention work, Rushford was awarded a five-year Drug Free Communities grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Jeff Walter ended his 34-year tenure with his retirement as Rushford CEO on November 15, 2013. Dr. Stephen Larcen assumed the position at that time. Under Dr. Larcen’s leadership, Rushford enters an exciting period in its evolution as its mental health and addiction prevention and treatment services become integrated and better coordinated with other parts of Hartford Health Care.

[1] Chris Woodyard, Climbing Out of the Bottle, The Hartford Courant, December 16, 1982, p. E1.