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Pandemic hasn’t stopped sobriety treatment and group housing, local providers say

  • The Antrim House in Antrim continues to deliver treatment for women with substance use disorders with minimal disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. June 10, 2020. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

  • The Antrim House in Antrim continues to deliver treatment for women with substance use disorders with minimal disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. June 10, 2020. Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/12/2020 11:34:25 AM

For a person seeking treatment for a substance use disorder or mental health issues, the COVID-19 pandemic had potential to drastically change their experience at a residential treatment facility, a sober home, or another group home devoted to housing vulnerable populations, such as people experiencing mental illness. However, treatment and housing is ongoing even if the pandemic prompted some changes, according to representatives from local residential treatment facility Antrim House, two sober homes in Keene, and Harbor Homes, which runs a home for people with mental health or substance use disorders in Antrim.

“There’s no pattern to where we get more admissions,” Antrim House Executive Director Emily Robbins said, and that a disruption as big as the pandemic hasn’t changed that. Client admissions have remained stable at the facility, which treats women with alcohol or drug dependencies, and, although experts speculate that the pandemic will cause a rise in substance use disorders, she anticipates it would be another year before a facility like Antrim House saw a change in intakes. “We’re only three months into this, so we haven’t seen the fallout yet,” she said.

A facility like Antrim House works with a population with lots of medical concerns already, Robbins said, and anticipates that COVID-19 will become just one additional health concern to check for on intake. The staff is used to taking procedures to mitigate the transmission of any illness a client might have when they arrive. “We do our job no matter what,” she said. The last thing they want is to add another hurdle to the process of seeking treatment, Robbins said. “There’s already a lot of stigma and struggle involved, we’re not going to add one more,” she said.

Some programming has changed, but clinical staff continue to provide the same hours of treatment every day, Robbins said, likening the facility to a hospital. “It still has to go on,” she said, while clients and staff  wear masks and physically distance. The facility designated a quarantine room should the need arise, which drops the 21-bed facility’s capacity to 19. There were 18 clients attending as of June 9.

At Prospect House and Live Free Structured Sober Living, two sober homes in Keene, residents typically arrive from more than 14 days at treatment facilities like Antrim house and therefore pose minimal threat to existing residents, Live Free founder Ryan Gagne said. The biggest issue the sober homes face is having to resort to virtual 12-step meetings. “One would think that a Zoom connection is adequate, but the feedback that we get a lot is it’s not,” Gagne said.  Both homes are supplementing with meetings and check-ins among residents themselves. They are following CDC guidelines but residents with jobs can still go to work, and they continue to live and interact with one another. “This disease thrives in isolation,” Prospect House owner Suzanne Boisvert said of substance use disorders.

Services by phone and internet are also posing an issue for tenants in properties owned by Harbor Homes, Chief of Operations Henry Och said. One of the nonprofit’s nine group home communities is located in Antrim and houses people living with mental health disorders or recovering from substance use disorders, who would otherwise be at risk for homelessness. Harbor Homes connects residents to behavioral health services, which all switched to telehealth at the start of the pandemic, Och said, and some clients have reported running out of minutes on their phone due to all their appointments. The nonprofit is figuring out how to support them, Och said. The group home in Antrim houses about six people who might stay for up to a couple years as they secure permanent housing, he said. Harbor Homes adopted a screening process for anybody coming to the property and visiting staff have received training for infection prevention, he said.

Although emergency orders prohibit most evictions, the order would not apply if a resident of a sober home relapsed and began using, Boisvert and Gagne said. For one, one resident actively using in the house would be endangering themselves as well as other tenants, Boisvert said, and that’s one of the exceptions to the restriction, which is set to expire on June 26. Additionally, participation in a program like Live Free is just that, rather than a landlord-tenant agreement, Gagne said. “You can’t reside in one of our homes without participating in one of those [sobriety] programs,” he said. The policy was tested for only the second time in the last five years since the state’s Stay At Home order went into place, Gagne said, when one of the residents attempted to obtain drugs. The resident hired a lawyer after his expulsion, but Gagne said they would be filing for an immediate dismissal through the courts. “They weren’t necessarily going to be homeless,” he said, and that the resident was offered four different services and places to go. “It was not OK for him to remain inside of the program,” he said.

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