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Building a recovery-based system of care

December 14, 2012
by Shannon Brys, Associate Editor
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Photos from the panel series event

At an Addiction Professional Panel Series event titled, “Building a Recovery-Based System of Care,” experts from around the country in the areas of treatment and recovery gave their input on a variety of issues related to the cutting-edge topic in the industry.  Gary Enos, Editor-in-Chief of Addiction Professional, led the Dec. 6 panel discussion in Providence, Rhode Island.

One of the main themes of the discussion was the need to educate the world about what recovery means.  Kim Dennis, MD, Chief Executive Officer and Medical Director of Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center in Illinois, said, “ One of the things we tell our patients that come in is ‘you’re as sick as your secrets’ and I think that goes for us as professionals and anybody in recovery.”  She talks about her own recovery and says that it is important for people in recovery to reintegrate into society and feel special because they’re in recovery, and not feel like they have to keep it a secret.”

Dennis continued by saying, “Anonymity gets warped in many ways, usually out of fear and shame to actually support people in keeping quiet about the fact that they are in recovery.”  She said that this “diminishes the visibility of people in recovery which diminishes a person who is not yet in recovery from having access to that community, whether or not they’ve ever been to treatment.”

At her organization, she says one of the biggest supports is the 12-Step recovery community because the women in recovery are going off-site, getting sponsors, and getting connected with others.  She said that in Illinois, they have a recovery walk and an eating disorder walk every year to raise awareness for the issues. 

“And my hope is that people at these walks who are in recovery and their family members are proud of them, rather than trying to keep it a secret.  When you go to a breast cancer awareness walk, breast cancer survivors are telling people about it and they feel good about themselves.  And we’re lagging behind a bit in that in the recovery field,” she admitted.

She also talked about some personal experiences in which she realized that people weren’t grasping the idea of recovery as they should be.  “In our mass culture, highly intelligent people who don’t really know anything about addiction and recovery still view it as a very negative thing,” she commented. She followed this up with a striking example of a friend’s contract for a physician position that had a stipulation about ‘I’ve never been treated for or had a mental illness.’  Rather than that wording, she said that it would’ve been better to say ‘I’ve been in recovery for at least two years’ or ‘I’m in recovery.’

Steven Gumbley, MA, ACDP II, Director of the New England Addiction Technology Transfer Center housed at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University, agreed with Dennis and said that it is up to those in recovery to raise their voice to make a difference in the way that people think and act about recovery.  He said that the latest estimate he had seen on Americans in recovery was 25 million. 

“If we had 25 million Americans advocating for different insurance policies and different kinds of services, things would really change.  Think about how other chronic diseases are organized— diabetes, heart problems, cancer— they have very vocal, very large, public campaigns to raise money, to raise awareness.  We don’t do that with our illness, and we need to begin to think about it.  And it also needs to become part of the way the community thinks about supporting recovery, which is another topic and the other element that I think is important,” Grumbley said.  

Dale Klatzker, PhD, President and CEO of the Providence Center (Rhode Island) since 2004, talked about his organization and the process that it went through in order to open a recovery community center. 

“You have to put your money where your mouth is and you have to make an investment.  Change doesn’t come quickly or easily,” Klatzker advised.  After hiring a director of recovery, The Providence Center began to shift its internal culture and worked with other community organizations to develop cooperation and to round up funding, he said. 

After four years, the organization was able to create the first recovery community center in Rhode Island, The Anchor Recovery Community Center.  Klatzker said that in the two years they’ve been in operation, they average 6,000-7,000 visits per month.  Because they’ve seen such a large turnout, Anchor 2 will be opening later this month.  He also said they are working with the local YMCAs to create recovery centers within their buildings and if that goes well, they are going to house them in all of the YMCAs throughout Rhode Island.

As far as funding for a recovery community center, Klatzker said that “all of what we’re doing has been through donations and cobbling together agency resources and other contracts that we’ve been able to get.”

“As a sustainability model I lose sleep over this,” he said, “but knowing that we’re doing the right thing, knowing that we are making an impact on people’s lives, more than pays itself back.  Whenever we have a hard time in the organization and we have to look at cutting costs, the recovery community stuff that we support is never on the list to cut.   We transformed our organizational culture to realize that treatment is not very effective without a full embracing of recovery.”