By Jamie Boyle • Welcome House, Inc. President/CEO
SUNDAY, APRIL 5, 2020
What’s getting lost in the all-coronavirus-all-the-time news coverage? This simple fact: life goes on. Each day someone somewhere is being diagnosed with a serious and progressive illness—like cancer, kidney disease, diabetes or heart disease. And these potentially deadly diseases require treatment. Treatment that, in many instances, can’t be put on hold until after the COVID-19 pandemic passes.
Treatment for Substance Use Disorders (SUD) is just as essential. Addiction is a disease. It takes lives and destroys families. I know of what I speak, from my own personal experience.
Recovery Is Still Possible Even During A Pandemic
My message is simple. Nothing has changed. Recovery is still possible, even during a pandemic.
Through faith or fortune or just dumb luck, I found Welcome House to start my own recovery eight years ago, and I am determined that Welcome House and the men who now call it home not get lost during this crisis.
Like any COMBAT-funded agency, we’re a non-profit. Our focus is making a difference in people’s lives and the community, not making money. By “our” I mean not just Welcome House but every treatment agency COMBAT funds. These are trying times for all of us, but especially for those who provide facilities where the clients live and are treated. Treatment centers like Benilde Hall, recovery houses like those Healing House provides, and residential sober-living recovery programs like Welcome House.
The men of Welcome House are taking their first steps into sobriety when they enter our doors. After nine months, and if we’ve been effective, we hope each will be well down their own personal path to recovery and equipped to begin healthier, happier lives.
We've suspended group meetings like this. But social distancing in facility like Welcome House is a severe challenge.
Health Highest Priority
Keeping my guys healthy right now is my highest priority, my deepest concern, the thing keeping me awake at night. Like most treatment facilities ours was not designed for social distancing. Just the opposite, in fact. Addiction is a lonely disease. Social isolation can trigger an addiction or cause a relapse.
Our men live in dorm-style rooms. Almost everyone has at least one roommate. I’m well aware that this is far from ideal right now.
We’ve suspended our all-house meetings, which would normally bring everybody together in fellowship, in one big group. We’re limiting our group recovery or rehabilitative sessions and meetings to no more than 10 people, and most of those have no more than five to seven participants. We’re just having to hold more sessions than we normally would each day, which is actually giving everyone more opportunities to participate.
Attending Meetings All Around The Globe—Online
We’ve purchased technology that allows our guys to attend online AA and NA meetings with other individuals from all around the globe. In a way, this global crisis has opened up a new world of possibilities for us, and we’re exploring virtual options we might not have considered before. That’s great for our men and for recovery.
What’s disheartening is that we normally operate at or near capacity, 80 men, and have a waiting list of those seeking to enter our program. This isn’t unusual at all. I’m guessing that’s common among all of COMBAT’s treatment agencies. People are desperate for treatment. They’ve made the self-diagnosis necessary as an addict or alcoholic to seek treatment. Like I had to find my personal rock bottom, they've found theirs.
But there just aren’t enough beds for everyone.
It breaks my heart that we simply can’t accept new clients until this crisis subsides. We’ve had to put them on hold.
Reduced Capacity During Crisis
Our operational capacity has been reduced from 80 clients to 60 currently. I had to close the resident wing on our basement floor for use as a quarantine area, if or when we need it.
Closing Welcome House completely is not an option. Most of our men have few if any resources and nowhere else to go. Our community can’t afford that right now, for them to be struggling on the streets, involving law enforcement and first responders or taking up vital hospital resources.
We’re prohibiting visitors and restricting the guys’ outside movements. Most of them have been laid off, or will be soon, so they don’t have jobs to go to right now. That has been rough on them and rough for us as a program and organization.
Work Requirement Waived
Normally, we have a work requirement for our guys. Among other things it helps them get back on their feet—a lot have been homeless—and part of their paychecks goes toward funding our program. We’ve waived that policy. We aren’t going to tell these men they need to go out there and hunt for jobs, when that would probably be futile during the shutdown and would only put them at increased risk of exposure.
We employ about 15 residents in our program to man the front desk, in maintenance and custodial roles, to work in the kitchen, and as drivers. They live there; they work there. We’ve gone to a limited schedule for our professional staff, but we have to keep coming in. I admit it’s a scary time and I worry about the exposure. I go home to my wife and children.
Welcome House's annual "Raffle Breakfast" draws a big crowd. We've had to move our biggest fundraisers to July.
Unexpected Emergency Expenses
Most years, what our clients pay in program fees covers about a third of Welcome House’s operating expenses. Not this year, at least not right now.
So, yes, I’m having sleepless nights worrying about Welcome House’s finances, too. We’ve postponed our biggest fundraiser until July, moving it back a couple of months. It will really hurt if we can’t do it in July.
There’s a misconception that places like ours are medical facilities. We’re not. We don’t normally have to buy PPE, the personal protective equipment you may have heard about in the media.
Those of us providing SUD treatment are having expenses we never expected to have. Expenses are up. Revenues are down. That’s obviously not sustainable for very long, especially in the non-profit world. I was the proverbial “sky-is-falling” guy a week ago, but Congress’ stimulus bill is supposed to offer some assistance, and we’re going to apply for the emergency funding COMBAT is offering and any other opportunities for relief that we can identify. Every bit helps.
As we say in recovery, it’s about “progress and not perfection”. And one day at a time.
Voice Of Personal Experience
When I talk about Substance Use Disorders, I'm speaking with the voice of experience. Personal experience.
I'm not just the President/CEO of Welcome House in Kansas City; I'm a former Welcome House resident.
As an alcoholic whose live was changed by Welcome House, I understand the need for Welcome House and other good treatment facilities all too well. At about 40 years of age, I found my way to Welcome House with only a backpack and $10 to my name.
For years I had been what you might call a high-functioning alcoholic and addict. If there really is such a thing. I graduated from KU in ’94, earned an MBA from the Bloch School at UMKC in ’99 and had a successful professional career in the for-profit health care sector.
But eventually every alcoholic and addict, no matter how high they might fly, spirals out of control and crashes. I had hit the, or my, elusive “bottom” that I’d heard other people describe. A lifetime of drinking and drug use had finally taken everything there was to take. It was either figure out how to get sober, get locked up or die.
Thankfully for me, there was a place called Welcome House.
I had tried rehab before but relapsed almost immediately, and I had little hope that I could get and remain sober. But then I found Welcome House and I’ve been sober ever since—eight years and counting now.
Jamie Boyle has served as President/CEO of Welcome House, a Kansas City sober-living facility for men over 21, for five years.