Nestled serenely among a stand of pine trees on Jones Mill Road is a hospital that has quietly grown to be one of the most respected nationwide in the field of alcohol and drug addiction treatment. Since 1971, Willingway Hospital has played host to over 20,000 patients, many of whom have decided to remain in Statesboro to continue both their treatment and their lives.
Because it is a discreet, private hospital that is still run by the Mooney family, Willingway's daily operations go unnoticed by most that live in this area. In fact, Jimmy Mooney, the ceo of Willingway since 1996, feels that if you were to ask most people in Statesboro about the hospital, they would say “What is Willingway?”
Since its meager beginnings in the living room of Dr. John Mooney and his wife, Dot, Willingway has relocated and grown into a fully equipped acute treatment hospital for those struggling to escape alcohol and drug addiction.
With 125 employees and an average of 33 patients receiving treatment at any given time, Willingway is a large addiction treatment operation by any standard, but more so since Willingway receives no federal or state funding and only accepts patients through a private pay or insurance reimbursement arrangements.
Mooney said it has been a deliberate move to only accept private pay patients.
“We believe in the treatment model that we provide," Mooney said. "By not accepting government reimbursement of any kind, we can do treatment like we think it needs to be done."
With an average of 400 new patients a year, Willingway has built a sound reputation within the addiction treatment field.
"Willingway has an outstanding reputation and has consistently provided treatment to persons with the disease of addiction as well as to their family members," said Ron Hunsicker, president and ceo of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. "They are unique in that they have remained faithful to their original mission, and they have continued to keep pace with the latest research in the area of addiction."
Mooney said by remaining true to his parents' vision, he feels the hospital has been able to maintain its position of prominence.
"Even though we recently went through an extensive remodeling of the facility, we have kept the 'homey' feel that was so important to my parents," he said. "Each of our patients' rooms feels like a bedroom and is designed to feel like a room in your home, not a hospital room. And in the cafeteria we have real home cooking."
Mooney pointed out another important difference between Willingway and other addiction treatment facilities.
"We can handle and facilitate patient detoxification from any type of drug," he said. "Some facilities will not treat patients that are addicted to certain types of narcotics."
Due to the nature of patient care provided by Willingway, the facility's interaction with the local business community is done with an air of strict confidentiality, and its economic impact has never been evaluated. But Willingway's ceo feels it is significant.
“Three percent of our patients come from Statesboro, and about 60 percent from the state of Georgia,” Mooney said. “Forty percent come from outside of Georgia.
“The revenue that we get comes through Willingway and is then spread throughout the community,” he said. “We have a pretty significant impact financially on Bulloch County.”
Many local vendors including food service, printing, and office supply companies are glad Willingway is here and appreciate the business created by it. Statesboro florist Marjorie Frazier, owner of Frazier Flowers on Zetterower Avenue, has been delivering flowers to Willingway's patients and employees for years and feels it is an important part of her business.
"We have a steady stream of orders from family members of clients at the hospital," she said. "We go out their quite a bit. It is a nice part of our business."
Local hotel and motel owners benefit from Willingway's annual homecoming each April which attracts more than 400 former patients and employees from around the country.
"We usually try to block off at least 300 rooms for that weekend,” said Melinda Roell, public relations coordinator at Willingway. "Participants spend the weekend participating in various activities, including listening to key note speakers, attending meetings, dinners, and a Saturday afternoon picnic."
Perhaps the biggest impact that Willingway has is the people that choose to live permanently in Statesboro once they have been through the hospital's program.
“There are a number of people living in the community now that are upstanding citizens – lawyers, doctors, entrepreneurs – that came here initially to deal with alcohol and drug problems," Mooney said. "They fell in love with Statesboro once they were here. They are productive citizens and good neighbors. We are extremely proud of that."
As proud as the Mooney family is of Willingway and how it has helped others, Dr. Bobby Mooney, the facility’s in-house medical services coordinator and a psychiatrist, feels the greatest accomplishment has been his family’s success in its own battle against alcohol and drug addiction."In only one full generation, the devastating cycle of addiction, which is generally multigenerational, has been altered such that the third generation may very well reach adulthood with no evidence of alcohol or drug use, much less a repeat of the debilitating illness that was present in their parents and grandparents,” he said.