Pandemic Poses Unique Challenges For Treatment Facilities

“We are normally a very huggy community. Not hugging people is difficult for us.”
Substance Use Disorder Treatment Normally Involves Group Therapy Session & Trying To Reduce Social Isolation


THURSDAY, MARCH 19, 2020

Anyone with a substance use disorder (SUD) shouldn’t delay seeking treatment for fear the timing isn’t right. “There is never a wrong time to ask for help” declares Kevin Vick.

The Executive Director at Benilde Hall explains,  “When someone with [a SUD] tells themselves, ‘I need help and I’m ready to get it,’ that’s a fleeting moment. They need to grasp it. Get help right now, even with all that is happening right now.” 

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Benilde Hall and other agencies receiving COMBAT treatment funding are continuing to serve their clients the best they can. The public health crisis poses unique challenges for all these agencies, but especially those operating residential facilities or recovery houses—places where practicing “social distancing” isn’t easy and runs counter to addressing the social isolation many people with a SUD can feel.

“We are normally a very huggy community,” says Healing House, Inc.’s longtime Grant Coordinator Becca Stewart. “Not hugging people is difficult for us.”

No Group Therapy Sessions



Healing House has 13 recovery houses in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood—from an entry-level home for men in their first days of recovery, to a house for new mothers and pregnant women. Benilde Hall, located about three miles from Healing House’s headquarters, has a 100-bed capacity with dorm-style rooms. As of Tuesday, 87 men were living there while receiving SUD treatment, mental health services and other assistance. 

Vick and his staff have decided to suspend Benilde Hall’s group therapy sessions but are continuing one-on-one counseling. Sisters In Christ made a similar decision, after the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) reduced the recommended maximum size for a gathering to just 10 people. 

Benilde Hall Group Session Last Fall
GROUP SESSIONS ON HOLD — Benilde Hall group sessions, like this one last fall, on being suspended during the on-going COVIC-19 pandemic. 

Tele-Counseling



Sisters In Christ has three recovery houses on Kansas City’s east side for women transitioning from SUD treatment facilities or correctional institutions. 

“We’ve tried to get out ahead of this, stocking up on cleaning supplies, making sure all our houses have enough food,” says Carolyn Whitney, Sisters In Christ’s Executive Director. “But it’s a difficult situation. You go to bed and the number is at 25, and then the next morning they’re saying no groups of 10 or more should get together.

“Most of our groups would be right around 10 to 12 ladies. So, we aren’t doing group sessions either and have cancelled our classes.”

Sisters In Christ’s is also restricting the recovery houses’ residents outside movements to going back and forth to jobs, medical appointments, including ongoing therapy or SUD treatment and Drug Court appearances. (Drug Court dates are being cancelled or postponed, according to Whitney, and more counseling sessions are now being done over the phone.)

'In The Vulnerable Category'



Most of the men who would participate in a Benilde Hall group session—usually involving 15 clients—are healthy, Vick notes, but “several are over 70 and a couple are undergoing Chemotherapy, so they’d definitely fall into the vulnerable category.”

Normally, all the Healing House residents would converge on the large Recovery Community Center each day for meals and multiple times a week for classes, social functions and other gatherings. The RCC opened a year ago and has seating capacity exceeding 100. 

Food is still being prepared at the RCC but is now being delivered to each house. “Tele-sessions” are being used for counseling, and Healing House clients are attending meetings online. Healing House has also hired a nurse to monitor clients and people entering its facilities.

“If we do have any small group get-togethers, the nurse is there to take temperatures,” says long-time Healing House grant coordinator Becca Stewart. “But, of course, what constitutes a small group keeps shifting. We have a lot of at-risk people here, too, whether it’s people who’ve damaged their lungs from smoking meth or already have respiratory conditions from being addicted to opioids. We really want to take care of them.”

​Preparing A Quarantine Area


Welcome House, a Kansas City sober-living facility for men 21 and over, has eliminated its daily "large-group" recovery meetings and monthly all-house meetings. Smaller, more frequent AA/NA meetings are being conducted throughout each day. The facility is closed to all non-residents, volunteers and visitors. 

The Welcome House has an 80-man capacity and President & CEO Jamie Boyle has closed the basement, prepping it for use as a possible quarantine area. He said Welcome House is currently full, but "for now, will remain open and will accept new residents who are not symptomatic."

Can’t Just Keep The Doors Closed



The women staying in the Sisters For Christ homes are often referred to the organization through the Drug Court. Healing House and Benilde Hall, meanwhile, are continuing to screen potential clients—those individuals who’ve “grasped the moment.”

Healing House is conducting “tele-intakes” and Vick says Benilde Hall is exploring online options. The National Institute on Drug Abuse urges treatment and recovery facilities to ask new clients—before they arrive in person—about any symptoms they might have (fever, cough, shortness of breath) and exposure risks (recent travel).

These are trying, uncertain times, but as Vick points out, “We aren’t going to stop doing in-takes. We still have staff coming in 24/7, helping people. We are restricting visitors to just case workers and just trying to keep the doors closed as much as we can. 

“But we can’t just close them and leave them closed.”
ASAM

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) has created a resources page on its website offering clinical guidance based on federal and state-specific recommendations.

» ASAM Coronavirus Resources
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