You might say Frank Lisnow’s life began to change the day he went to jail. No, he never spent a day behind bars. But it was 40 years ago at a jail in Vermont where Lisnow embarked on a then-unlikely path that eventually led him to Colorado, where he became the first executive director of the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation (CeDAR) at University of Colorado Hospital.
Lisnow officially retired from the hospital Oct. 3 after a highly successful six-year tenure. He played a key role in transforming CeDAR from drawings and dreams into a nationally respected and recognized addiction and treatment center.
He leaves CeDAR in the strongest shape it has ever been. Earlier this year, a five-year anniversary benefit concert headlined by Bon Jovi raised $1 million for the facility. In March, it opened a second cottage for patients, and admissions for fiscal year 2011 (which ended June 30) were up nearly one-third from the year before.
From a humble beginning as a corrections officer and counselor at that jail in northeastern Vermont, a career was born. In 2004, he got a call “out of the blue” from Mame Fuhrman, who was then employment manager at University of Colorado Hospital. She had obtained Lisnow’s name from a colleague in Arizona. He wasn’t prepared for the experience that followed. The facility he came to visit wasn’t a facility at all. “CeDAR was just a design,” he says. But he was immediately interested after he met the late Robert Harmon, M.D., CeDAR’s founding medical director and an addiction psychiatrist.
“We clicked immediately,” Lisnow remembers. “We had the same passion and love for helping people get into recovery. Our philosophy was the same – that people change when they decide their behavior needs to change. We both wanted to help people in recovery through a commitment to behavioral change.”
When the hospital offered him the position of executive director, Lisnow, then 60, was up front about his plans. “I told them I was a five- to six-year man, that I’d already planned to retire at age 66.”
True to his word, Lisnow now moves on to what he calls “a new adventure with his wife and grandkids.”
He’s off to Oak Island, N.C., where he and his wife, Karen, have built their retirement home. He plans plenty of golf, deep-sea fishing and time with his extended family.
“It’s the right thing to do, but I have mixed emotions,” he says. “This is absolutely the greatest place I have ever worked. The hospital lives its mission of caring for the patients they serve.”
Obviously proud of his accomplishments, he says the credit for CeDAR’s success goes to the staff. “They have made CeDAR a nationally known, quality treatment center,” he says. “That’s an amazing thing in six-and-a-half years. And people recognize that our affiliation with University of Colorado Hospital puts us a step ahead of other facilities.”