A $213,000 federal grant will allow a first-of-its-kind safe house to open in Springfield later this year, providing addicts seeking help a place to go before receiving treatment.
The safe house will be operated by McKinley Hall treatment center as part of the recovery board’s warm hand-off program, which will place a licensed chemical dependency therapist and a peer support recovery specialist at the Springfield Regional Medical Center emergency room to speak with addicts about treatment options.
The program is voluntary and won’t require insurance, said Greta Mayer, CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Clark, Greene and Madison Counties.
“This (safe house) is one of many pieces of the puzzle,” Mayer said. “We’re hopeful we’ll engage people that we haven’t before that will at least consider it. But it’s still possible they’ll choose not to stay for detox or choose not to stay for the safe house. But at least we have this opportunity and option we haven’t had before.”
The safe house project was approved Friday as part of the federal 21st Century CURES Act, a $6.3 billion bill that included $1 billion to battle opioid abuse nationwide. The funding was vetted by the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
“The state investing in it is a blessing for us,” McKinley Hall CEO Wendy Doolittle said. “They recognize the need and they obviously have some faith in the idea that it might be effective.”
The people who will be working to reach addicts at the ER will also work with them at the safe house as they wait for treatment, Mayer said.
The Clark County Substance Abuse Coalition began discussing a safe house earlier this year as way to curb the number of people who overdose, are revived by first responders, taken to the ER and later leave the hospital against medical advice.
“It’s a revolving door,” Mayer said. “This will hopefully give people more time to engage in treatment and think about treatment and hope they can beat addiction.”
The program will provide a safe place for people to go rather than stay in that addictive environment, Mayer said.
“Being able to greet them with compassion and options is better than what we’ve got right now,” Doolittle said.
The voluntary program will house beds for five men as part of the initial phase, which will open by Sept. 1, Mayer said. They’ll first go through detox at the hospital, she said, then stay at the safe house for about seven to 10 days before finding a place to receive in-patient treatment.
“We have to keep taking people in if it’s going to be successful,” Doolittle said.
No house has been designated at this point, she said, and several details, including hiring employees, are still to be determined.
Clark County has seen more nearly 750 overdoses this year as of July 7, including about 580 in the city of Springfield. After a record 79 drug deaths in the county last year, this year has already seen 81 suspected fatal overdoses — many of which involve illicit fentanyl that’s 50 to 100 times more powerful than heroin. About 60 overdose deaths have been confirmed.
It’s possible the facility could expand to help women, if it’s successful, Mayer said.
“We have to start somewhere and measure to see if it’s effective and go from there,” she said.
The program will cost about $300,000 total for the first year, Doolittle said. That will pay for two full-time staff members, three full-time and three part-time recovery technicians at the 24-hour safe house, rent for the facility, other furnishings and food.
The costs not covered by the grant will come from the recovery board.
McKinley Hall is working hard to find a location for the program, Doolittle said. It must be put in place by the end of August.
Without the safe house, McKinley Hall has completed three warm hand-offs and two have been effective, Doolittle said.
The Mental Health and Recovery Board will be fronting the money until the federal funding comes in, Mayer said. The grant is for two years, but the agencies are focusing on the first year, she said. If the funding runs out, it’s possible it could be sustained through local funding, Mayer said.
The program could also show first responders and hospital staff that addiction from recovery is possible, she said. The therapists will de-brief first responders while the patient is being treated and bring that person back to thank them after a certain amount of recovery time, Doolittle said.
“It will show the first responders that there are really good outcomes that happened for some of these people that they don’t normally get to see,” she said.
SPRINGFIELD’S OPIOID WAR
About this series: Springfield’s Opioid War
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about opioid and heroin problems in Clark County in the past five years, including stories about multiple overdoses in one weekend and efforts to expand treatment options. This year, the News-Sun will take a deep dive into the community’s opioid epidemic and what local officials are doing to solve the problem.
By the numbers
$213,000: Grant funding used to open a safe house in Clark County.
750: Estimated number of drug overdoses in Clark County this year, the majority attributed to heroin and fentanyl.
79: Confirmed drug deaths in 2016.
81: Unconfirmed, suspected drug deaths so far this year.
Staying with the story
The Springfield News-Sun has written extensively about the safe house concept since it was first introduced by a local substance abuse coalition earlier this year.