Noah’s Ark detox opens
More and more patients arrive
Lichtenthal was serious. He wasn’t working, and had plenty of time for the project. In fact, he got his cousin, Robert Lichtenthal, involved. Robert Lichtenthal was also retired—he was a former cop, a captain with the New York City Department of Corrections.
Robert Lichtenthal lived in Florida. But from the beginning of the relationship between Leedom and Barry Lichtenthal, Robert and his family—his wife and four children—were part of their lives. They drove up from Florida to Connecticut for every holiday. When the two families were together, there were seven children running around. Leedom loved it.
The two men started putting together the substance abuse program. On January 3, 2002, the Noah’s Ark Foundation was registered as a nonprofit corporation, with Robert Lichtenthal listed as the president and Barry Lichtenthal as a director. By February 4, they submitted paperwork to the Connecticut Office of Health Care Access. Most new health care services must complete a certificate of need. As a non-profit, however, Noah’s Ark was eligible for an exemption, which was granted on February 27, 2002.
The Lichtenthals rented office space at 4083 Main Street in Bridgeport. As the facility was being readied, Leedom says she repeatedly told the men that two things must never happen: There must be no hanky-panky with the insurance billing, and there must be no hanky-panky with the female patients. If authorities found out that either of these things happened, Leedom warned, the clinic would be shut down.
Noah’s Ark opened during the first week of May 2002. When it did, Leedom was two months pregnant.
Puffing out smoke
Robert Lichtenthal was responsible for managing the business affairs of Noah’s Ark. Leedom developed the medical protocols and treated the patients. Barry Lichtenthal’s involvement was minimal—at least in the beginning.
At first, there weren’t many patients. But as the caseload grew, Leedom found that she needed assistance. Rhonda Marshall, the visiting nurse, volunteered to help out, and came in a couple of mornings a week during the summer of 2002 to give patients their methadone.
“I didn’t want to be paid,” Marshall says. “I felt it was a great learning experience. I really loved Dr. Leedom, and I was always learning from her. She was there to help people, to give something in the community for patients. I just wanted to help her with that dream and make it successful for her.”
Patients, Marshall says, were sometimes in an agitated state and wanted more methadone than Leedom had prescribed for them. When that happened, Marshall asked Leedom for instructions. “If she wasn’t in the clinic, I was always able to get a hold of her by phone,” Marshall says. “She always made herself accessible.”
Sometimes when Marshall was working at Noah’s Ark, Leedom’s husband, Barry Lichtenthal, came in. Although Marshall said nothing to Leedom at the time, she didn’t like the man.
“He was very loud and boisterous,” Marshall says. “I try not to be judgmental, but he was very rough, and talked street talk. I thought maybe it was because there were some patients there who were tough, and he was kind of like a security person.”
Lichtenthal tried to engage Marshall in conversation. “He was trying to pass himself off as an FBI agent, but I knew he wasn’t,” she says. “I kind of knew he was puffing out smoke.”
Marshall also knew that Lichtenthal was an office manager. “At no time did Dr. Leedom ever tell me to take orders from him,” Marshall says. “She made it clear that she was the doctor and I was the nurse, and he didn’t have anything to do with medication.”
Help for the morning shift
The clinic started getting busy—in part because when other rehab facilities expelled patients who could no longer pay, Noah’s Ark took them in.
Leedom was working harder than ever. She was still performing ECT procedures at St. Vincent ‘s Hospital in the mornings. She moved her private psychiatric practice, Mood Disorder Specialty LLC, to the Noah’s Ark facility. She was examining and developing therapy programs for each new substance abuse patient. And through it all, she was sick with her pregnancy, vomiting almost every day.
In mid-July 2002, Leedom ran into George Stowe, the licensed practical nurse, with whom she had worked at the Hall-Brooke hospital. She needed someone to dispense medications in the mornings while she was at St. Vincent’s, and asked him if he was interested in the work. Stowe was freelancing for home health care agencies—his resume listed On Duty Home Care of New Haven and Maxim Health Care of Hamden. But he was available early in the morning, and started passing meds at Noah’s Ark in August.
Leedom says that after examining each patient, she wrote up medication orders, which Stowe followed as he distributed methadone. Sometimes, Leedom says, patients argued with him, stating, “that’s not my dose.” They wanted more methadone. When that happened, Leedom says, Stowe called her on her cell phone for instructions.
Stowe left Noah’s Ark promptly at 9 a.m., Leedom says, to visit his home health care patients. Sometimes, Leedom says, detox patients were still waiting at the clinic when Stowe left, and she had to race back from St. Vincent ‘s to give them their medication. No one else was allowed to pass meds.
Barry Lichtenthal manages the office
Also in August 2002, Barry Lichtenthal, Leedom’s husband, started coming in to Noah’s Ark more frequently, and soon he was there every day. He worked in the front reception area on the computer and always wore jeans. At some point he started referring to himself as “Dr. Michael Taylor.”
Leedom didn’t particularly like the fact that her husband was calling himself “Dr. Taylor,” but assumed he did it because his real name was long and difficult to pronounce. He never really gave her a straight answer about it. He just said “Taylor” was the last name of his previous wife who died, and he’d been using it for awhile.
It never occurred to Leedom that Lichtenthal might have an ulterior motive. It also never occurred to her that patients and staff might actually believe he was a doctor. But research shows that repeating a claim increases its apparent truthfulness, even if the claim is a lie. Lichtenthal kept repeating that he was Dr. Michael Taylor.
Lichtenthal was managing the office, including Leedom’s schedule. Leedom says her husband routinely booked new patients in 20-minute time slots, even though she repeatedly told him that she wanted so spend an hour with them. As a result, Leedom was usually running behind schedule.
Then they learned that Noah’s Ark had to move—their building was being torn down. Lichtenthal found a condominium unit for sale in the three-story Merritt Medical Center, and convinced Leedom to purchase it. But the condominium bylaws stipulated that any use must be approved by the owners association, and other doctors in the building were not enthusiastic about sharing space with a detox clinic. They objected to the purchase.
Lichtenthal went on the offensive. He drafted a memo, which Leedom never saw, that was purportedly from his cousin, Robert Lichtenthal. “Dr. Taylor has made several calls on behalf of Dr. Leedom in an effort to get the transaction off center,” Barry Lichtenthal wrote. “It is patently obvious that we are being stonewalled by the board.”
Then he slipped, forgetting to maintain his cousin’s persona. He wrote, “My wife, Liane Leedom, is a highly respected, Board Certified Psychiatrist in town. Liane is now nine months pregnant in a high-risk pregnancy. This 11th hour ‘stuff’ being inflicted on her is causing her considerable anxiety.”
Lichtenthal concluded his memo with, “You might tell these good folks, this is still America, land of the free and home of the brave, a place two of us in this practice fought to defend, and lost blood defending in Viet Nam. We’re not about to fold because of a couple of self righteous doctors.”
Neither of the Lichtenthals had served in Vietnam.
With her hospital work, her clinic, her family and her difficult pregnancy, Leedom was running herself ragged. She frequently got to Noah’s Ark at 6:30 a.m. to pass meds—Stowe, she says, didn’t arrive until 7 a.m. Then she went to St. Vincent ‘s Hospital. Then she raced back to the clinic at 9 a.m. Then she saw patients non-stop, because her husband continued to overbook her. Then she went home and took care of her family.
“At the time, I thought this is hell, but it’s worth it,” Leedom says.
Leedom had a privileged upbringing in a family of doctors, and always felt obligated to repay her many blessings by working for the betterment of society. She wanted to help people who truly needed it—like drug addicts.
Leedom is certain that her clinic saved lives. Many of the people she worked with had no way to get treatment—their only other choice was to continue using. The average heroin addict, she explains, needed $80 to $100 per day to support his or her habit. Noah’s Ark was successful in getting people off heroin, and was therefore preventing thousands of dollars in crime.
“I was trying to do something big,” Leedom says. “I was keeping the statistics to document our success. I was hoping to publish. But it’s gone—the state took everything.”
The patients she helped, however, continually expressed their appreciation—sometimes encouraged by her husband. Lichtenthal made sure that Leedom kept getting positive feedback.
A new son
Because she was so overworked and stressed, for the last two months of her pregnancy, Leedom had anxiety attacks. Her obstetrician said nothing could be done.
Leedom went into labor on November 19, but the labor didn’t progress. She’d already had two normal deliveries, so she knew something was wrong. She wanted a cesarian section, but the obstetrician balked. With this, her husband, Lichtenthal, vociferously demanded the c-section—he was so nasty that Leedom was embarrassed. The doctor relented, and the baby was delivered on November 20. It was a good thing—the baby showed signs of excessive stress.
Lichtenthal, unfortunately, continued to confront and berate the hospital staff. It was the first time Leedom ever saw him act like a bully. “I’d just had a horrible pregnancy and a c-section, and I was just saying to myself, ‘I need a couple of days rest,'” Leedom says. “But he was such an as***** that I had to sign myself out.”
And the next day, she signed the purchase agreement for her clinic’s new offices at the Merritt Medical Center.
Leedom took maternity leave from her job with St. Vincent’s, but she did not take maternity leave from Noah’s Ark. She stayed home with her newborn for a few days, but was constantly in phone contact with Stowe, the LPN, who was providing medication to the patients. By Thanksgiving, a week after her baby was born, Leedom was back at the clinic passing meds. She brought her baby with her.
And although she was entitled to months of leave from St. Vincent’s, she was called in to cover for someone at Christmas. By January, she was back to her regular schedule.
Leedom never really recovered from her c-section.