Changes at River City Recovery Center stabilize nonprofit

NOVEMBER 23, 2015 9:00 AM

BY CATHIE ANDERSON
canderson@sacbee.com

Since taking the reins at Sacramento’s River City Recovery Center in June 2013, Kurt von Geldern has cut food and payroll costs, remodeled and upgraded residential housing, and negotiated rate increases from two major health providers.

Plus, von Geldern unveiled a new website for the 51-year-old nonprofit. River City Recovery has a 55-bed facility for men in Herald and 24 beds for women in midtown Sacramento. The organization also offers transitional housing to 18 men and 10 women who have completed drug rehabilitation programs but want to remain in a sober living environment.

Von Geldern, who had served on River City Recovery’s board for about 12 years, said he took the executive director post because he saw ways he could contribute to the organization’s long-term stability. The program is crucial, he said, because it assists so many people who can’t afford other options: the uninsured, homeless veterans, ex-offenders.

“People come to us because we’re affordable,” von Geldern said. “We’re $3,500 a month, so that’s just a little over $100 a day. That’s for treatment, housing and three meals a day. Typically, what’s happening is it’s not the client who’s paying. It’s their parents or their grandparents.”

When von Geldern told one woman that they charged $3,500, she said: “And that’s a week, right?” When he corrected her, he said, she barked back her shock with one word: “Really!?”

There are medical programs out there that charge $40,000, von Geldern said, but River City focuses on the social model in its drug rehabilitation program. Using the 12-step principles of Alcoholics Anonymous, he explained, counselors and volunteer mentors teach and model positive ways in which residents can respond to stress or life challenges.

Residents stay for 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on what’s needed. At the end of their stay, von Geldern said, some opt to move into River City Recovery’s sober living homes, where they pay only $450 a month for their living space and three meals a day.

To keep prices low and to provide services to indigent clients, von Geldern said, he looked for ways to maximize every dollar and to increase revenue when he took the post as executive director. The organization’s budget now stands at roughly $1.3 million.

One of the first things von Geldern did was to team with the Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, paying a maintenance fee to get that organization’s wholesale prices on food items. The partnership, he said, cut River City Recovery’s food costs in half. At the same time, von Geldern also has hired two culinary school graduates to prepare more healthful meals.

A more challenging task for von Geldern was renegotiating contracts with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Kaiser Permanente, he said, but he knew that even with fee increases of 10 percent to 15 percent, River City Recovery would still represent a great value for those two major health providers. He was able to get the increases, he said, and Kaiser now refers patients from Fresno, Vallejo and Oakland to River City’s facilities.

Von Geldern also made the decision to seek mentors willing to function as volunteers rather than as part-time employees. Mentors, he said, still receive free lodging and three meals a day, and they can come and go as they please. The rate increases and cost-cutting allowed the organization to make much-needed repairs and remodeling at its facilities.

The executive director’s passion for this work stems from his own personal journey. Both his parents, he said, were practicing alcoholics. While his father died at age 49, he said, his 85-year-old mother has been clean and sober for 41 years. Von Geldern also slid into a life of addiction for a while, he said, but in 1988, he followed his mother’s path into a 12-step program.

One of his greatest accomplishments, he said, is that he has a 26-year-old son who has never seen him drunk or hung over.

That inspired his auto license plate: SOBRDAD.