The Choices Emergency Response Team and Margaret Mary Health have joined forces to help those struggling with substance abuse issues. They have also partnered with Ripley County Court Services to provide intensive outpatient services for the Ripley County CADS (Courts Addiction & Drug Services) program.
CERT is a mobile, community-based team of specialists who provide 24-hour assessment and on-site crisis response to support individuals and their families experiencing challenges with opioid overdoses, substance use and mental health crises.
"Our goal is to reduce the number of overdoses and increase the survival rates of those who overdose," reports clinical director Stephanie Hartman. "We help get individuals into treatment, create a network of support, build resources and make sure people have access to them."
"We serve seven counties: Franklin, Ripley, Dearborn, Decatur, Ohio, Switzerland and Jefferson." The office is at the Batesville Area Resource Center.
Nikki King, MMH manager of behavioral health and addictions, says Margaret Mary Health's goal is "to improve the health of our communities. We do a community health assessment every three years, and this is what drives our initiatives."
The top items residents felt needed attention were substance abuse and mental heath issues. "We wanted to address those because we really do listen to what the community says." Therefore, the addiction services team developed an intensive outpatient program. "It's unusual for a community hospital to have this."
How will success be measured?
"If it's working, you're going to see it," King points out. Successes include having a job or a good housing situation, being out of trouble with child protective services, having their kids back.
"With CERT, we measure how many resources we connect them to," Hartman notes. "It's not just detox. We help them get educated and get them to a doctor and help them have a bed to sleep in so they can start living their lives. We ask them, 'What do you want to do today to meet your goals?' .... We're working with them to see what's going to work."
Through partnerships, "we have the opportunity to do assessments and work with their therapists so they can get through the program successfully."
"We're changing the culture of addiction, changing the stigma and changing how the community views them (substance abuse users)," announces Tracy Craft, MMH peer recovery coach.
Megan Huffmeyer, CERT emergency response clinician, adds, "We're bringing education awareness .... (and) showing them ways to have fun that doesn't involve just drinking or drugs."
"We're helping people understand the science behind addiction," Hartman emphasizes. "If we can sit down and show images of what's going on in their brains, that helps them understand why they need treatment. We're not just saying, 'You have a disease,' we're explaining what this is and why."
Huffmeyer notes, "There's an observable difference in the brain for those who have addictions."
"The population that is coming out of jail has an extremely high chance of overdosing," Hartman reveals. That's why the partnership between CERT, MMH and CADS is so important.
"We come in and ask them what they want to do, what needs to be different and how can we help them on their terms."
King maintains, "I hear a lot of pushback for serving the court system .... People talk about the jails being full, and that's what happens when you try to arrest your way out of a medical problem."
Addiction "is a disease, and there's an actual treatment," Hartman reports. "When you look at it from a medical standpoint, persons make a decision to use and can get addicted just like people make a decision to smoke and can get lung cancer .... It's not an excuse saying it's a disease, but they should have the opportunity to get treatment."
King believes addiction should be lumped in with cancer and diabetes, not with theft.
The CERT team of Hartman, Huffmeyer and recovery support specialists Jenilee Collins and Aaron Spaulding, along with MMH's addiction services team of King, Craft, clinical social workers Lindsey Gessendorf and Tom Deters and psychologist Joshua Harrison, collaborate with Shannon Schmaltz, Ripley County Court Services director, for the CADS program.
"When we get a call from probation that a person is being released from jail, my role is to meet with him/her," says Huffmeyer. "I complete an assessment to determine what level of care he/she needs and link him/her to a recovery support specialist, meetings he/she needs to participate in and whatever other needs he/she has," including finding a job, insurance and transportation and getting needed meds.
"It's not a cookie-cutter approach." It's individualized for each person. Then "I'll take the information back to probation."
Once individuals are accepted into the CADS program, "there's an ongoing discussion and weekly meetings with the team of the MMH Addiction Services staff, CERT and probation," Hartman reports. "The judges are involved as well .... We're looking at what's going on and having a really good discussion of how to offer options for treatment and hold people accountable. We want those who have the best chance for success .... Some people won't accept treatment, and legal consequences happen."
King notes, "Our clinician will do an assessment to see if an individual is a good fit for the program. If so, he/she will start in one of our groups, which are nine hours a week of intensive outpatient treatment. There are also individual therapy sessions."
"The program is a minimum of seven months" and is based on each person's individual progress.
Hartman adds, "We use evidence-based models for everything we do."
Huffmeyer relayed a success story about a client who was referred to them through probation. The client was in recovery, but had concerns about another family member overdosing. This person received Narcan because of being on probation and was able to revive the family member when the relative overdosed. Now this person "is also on the road to recovery."
"As long as people are alive, we still have hope," Hartman points out.
King announces, "We had 80 percent of people complete the program .... compared to only about 40 percent who complete this treatment" in similar programs nationally.
"If the partnership wasn't working, we wouldn't see that kind of success."
"Probation communicates with us, and everybody's very transparent and open," Hartman reveals. "We look at what's in the best interest of the community and the person. We won't put someone who is a danger to the community back on the streets."
Craft stresses, "We're really proud of our graduates. These are people who have been in and out of the criminal justice system, completed the program and have been clean for months."
Hartman reports, "These are people who are working in our community. They have kids going to school in our community. They go to church with us .... You may not even realize a neighbor is receiving the help he/she needs."
"People have the misperception you can spot persons with addictions, and they're automatically criminals. A lot of people would never guess who they are. They come from good families, but they just took a wrong turn. This could happen to anybody."
In addition to the CADS program, CERT personnel respond during times of crisis and ensure individuals are connected with long-term recovery services to achieve success. Anyone can make a referral to CERT by calling 317-205-8302 or emailing CERT@ChoicesCCS.org.
To learn more about MMH's Addiction Services Program or the CADS program, persons can call 812-933-5406.
Diane Raver can be contacted at email@example.com or 812-934-4343, Ext. 114.
Why they're involved
Day in and day out members of CERT and MMH's Addiction Treatment Services team work hard to assist those with addictions and substance use disorders get the help and resources they need.
All of these professionals have various reasons for wanting to help individuals struggling with these issues.
Huffmeyer says, "Growing up in this community, I wanted to give back, and I felt there weren't enough services around here."
Hartman also grew up here. When she first started in this field, "I worked with typical families. Over the past several years, that became less and less common. I saw more grandparents and relatives raising kids and the struggles that came with that. I realized a lot had to do with addictions. My focus shifted to one of the root causes of so many unhappy people in our communities. It's affecting everybody, and it makes me unhappy, too.
"I had a client die of an overdose a few years ago ... (and) I believe if these programs existed when I was working with her, she may still be alive. I think about her a lot, and sometimes it's in her honor why I do this."
Craft reports, "I wanted to use my past experiences to help people with similar problems. I had the opportunity to change how the Ripley County court system works and impact how they handle situations."
"I grew up in southeastern Kentucky, which is ground zero for the opioid epidemic," reveals King. She believes community hospitals should be doing their part to help those struggling with addictions.