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Rehab, Hamptons-Style

Avocado carpaccio, pricey yoga wear and meditation. It’s not a trip. It’s drying out, Hamptons-style

Used to be that if you were an East Coast one percenter with an addiction, you had to go far afield for five-star treatment: Promises in Malibu, Hazelden in Minnesota, the Eric Clapton-founded Crossroads Centre in Antigua. No more. East Hampton drug and rehab center the Dunes—a lush villa built on four acres of land in a town where booze and discreet drug use is as prevalent as money and fame—is a sort of seaside Canyon Ranch for the sobriety challenged. And it was designed specifically for the kind of type-A addict the East Coast breeds so well: someone just as hooked on his BlackBerry as on his drug of choice.

Photo of pool: Frank Roccanova/Courtesy of The Dunes

Joe McKinsey, owner and CEO of a computer services company and recovering addict active in helping others since his own 1984 drying out, opened the Dunes two years ago with money he raised from family and friends. At 67, he says he’s battled nearly every addiction there is, from drugs and alcohol to overeating and excessive exercising. He first conceived the Dunes after moving to the Hamptons from Los Angeles several years ago and encountering the area’s underserved, so to speak, addict population: executives who couldn’t present PowerPoint without a line of cocaine, Wall Streeters with three-Percocet lunch habits. He’d had enough, he says, of shipping the people he’d sponsored off to destination rehabs. Like the prominent Amagansett attorney he’d convinced to seek help at a Malibu retreat, only to return an hour later to find the man had locked himself in the house, refusing to come out for a ride to the airport. While there are other affluent-friendly detox facilities on the East Coast—like Connecticut’s Silver Hill Hospital and New Jersey’s Alina Lodge—Dunes is the first place where the rich can get clean and sober in, quite literally, their own backyard.

Nestled in a sylvan setting in a residential area, the Dunes provides amenities like sculptured grounds, a tennis court, Jacuzzis and a swimming pool. The rooms are luxurious, some boasting fireplaces and steam baths. Yoga, music, art, massage, equine therapy and other offerings are designed to eliminate stress and encourage expression, and gourmet meals include truffled local eggs and seared tuna over avocado carpaccio. “The cuisine,” says McKinsey, “is a tangible reward for giving up mood-altering substances.” There are no more than 12 patients at a time—“small enough that you can’t hide”—versus up to 80 at similar facilities; the staff-to-client ratio is three to one. “The individual attention you get here in 30 days is equivalent to what you get elsewhere in 90 to 120,” says McKinsey, though he adds that the recommended stay is 11 months. Not all Dunes residents are there that long; a single month can cost up to $75,000, no insurance accepted.

Photo of interiors (2): Donnelly Marks/Courtesy of The Dunes

McKinsey did his own recovery at what was then St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, Calif. (It’s now called St. John’s Health Center and no longer houses a recovery facility.) Over the years, he spoke about his experience to patients at upscale centers. To develop the Dunes’ protocol, he worked with Harvard Medical School addiction specialist Howard Shaffer, PhD, who is Skyped in for weekly group sessions, according to McKinsey. The program is unconventional by many recovery standards, which typically restrict inpatient communication with the outside world—especially business matters—as a patient focuses on getting better. At the Dunes, time is allotted during the day for work, and clients are allowed out for appointments if accompanied by a sober companion. This, naturally, has proven attractive to high-powered executives and entrepreneurs who often see getting clean as a professional sacrifice. “If you’re going to have to do it when you get out of here, why not experience it while you’re here?” McKinsey says. “That way, you can learn to process.” Residents have reportedly included Fortune 100 CEOs and top advertising brass, but also entertainers, college students and grandmothers.

A key element in the Dunes’ philosophy is creating a familial atmosphere. On one visit, a blonde nurse makes her rounds dressed in bright pink jeans while an elegant septuagenarian sits at a country kitchen table eating a muffin. A striking 30-something in Lululemon saunters through the great room on her way out for a run. “I believe rehab should feel like home, not an institution,” says McKinsey, whose wife is in charge of special events. “A lot of the best work gets done when all the clinicians go home and it’s just clients,” he says, though he adds that community integration is key, too. Residents are encouraged to venture out into the world together—to the beach, to 12-step meetings, to bowling. “Anyone can be sober in isolation,” he says.

Some might prefer it that way. The Dunes has attracted its fair share of controversy, with complaints centering on those very Hamptons gripes—traffic and whether proper zoning rules were followed. After complaints about excessive cars and noise from meetings held outside, the town of East Hampton began looking into whether the Dunes had received proper permits to operate in a residential area. Retired musician Anthony Liberatore, whose house is two away from the center, launched a watchdog group, Citizens for the Preservation of the Northwoods, which sponsors an online petition at exposethedunes.com and regularly takes out anti-Dunes ads in the East Hampton Star. The 30-strong group, which counts as members neighbors such as Loraine Boyle, widow of actor Peter Boyle, argues that McKinsey misled authorities by claiming the center would operate as a single-family home when instead it is run as a clinical facility—and that on occasion, the serenity prayer and more are heard wafting in the breeze.

“We don’t have any more in and out than a large family,” says McKinsey. Considering the town’s many landscapers, florists, chefs and household staff coming and going daily, he has a point; at press time, the Dunes and the town of East Hampton were in settlement talks. “It would be criminal to shut us down,” he says. “Last I heard, people are allowed to talk outside.”

McKinsey maintains that he went through all appropriate channels before opening the Dunes and that the trouble is just another example of the ongoing stigma attached to addiction. The Dunes’ parent company, Safe Harbor, says the Dunes is a home, not a facility, and that it is working with the town to resolve issues.

“We don’t have any more in and out than a large family,” says McKinsey. Considering the town’s many landscapers, florists, chefs and household staff coming and going daily, he has a point. At press time, the Dunes and the town of East Hampton were in settlement talks. “It would be criminal to shut us down,” McKinsey says. “Last I heard, people are allowed to talk outside.”