Women in treatment face unique challenges as two facilities close

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Aug. 14 – TRAVERSE CITY – The new CEO of Addiction Treatment Services understands what it takes for a woman to take the first steps on the road to recovery from alcohol and drugs.

In the Traverse City area, that road is more precarious with the closure of Phoenix Hall, a 12-bed women’s living unit at ATS and a 14-bed co-ed living unit at Munson Medical Center.

Paula Lipinski was named No. 1 in the ATS in July. She has been clean and sober since March 4, 2018. She knows from her own experience that many women get sober to be a better mother to their children. She also knows that these children are often the biggest obstacle to recovery.

“I would tear my heart out for my kids,” Lipinski said. “I would jump in front of a bus for my kids. But I couldn’t stop drinking for my kids… That’s how strong this disease is, that I would choose alcohol over the two things in my life to which I would die.”

These kinds of feelings lead to the shame of admitting one’s addiction and opening one’s life, and especially one’s parenting skills, to the judgment of others.

“As a woman in recovery, not only is there such shame about having kids and you have to leave them and go to treatment, or someone is judging your parenting because you’re the drunk mother, or automatically think you must have been drinking throughout your pregnancy,” Lipinski said. “There’s a lot more judgment as a mother.”

She said she had the support of her parents and ex-husband while rebuilding her life, but many women don’t have that and think recovery may not be worth losing their children. , she said.

“So many times it’s our identity, it’s who we are, it’s how we live our lives and it’s taken away from us, what’s the point?” she says.

Susan Kramer is Munson’s Ambulatory Behavioral Health Manager. The Residential Treatment Unit closed permanently about two weeks ago due to a lack of staff.

With the closure of the Phoenix Hall and Munson centers, the closest women’s programs are now over an hour’s drive away, at Harbor Hall in Petoskey, which opened an eight-bed women’s unit in February 2021, and Bear River Health in Gaylord, which has 60 beds for women.

Kramer says women often face financial barriers to treatment, as many are the sole earner in a single-parent household. They also lack childcare and have no means of transport to a rehabilitation centre.

The stigma of addiction is a huge barrier for both men and women, but women tend to seek treatment for substance use disorder less often, Kramer said. Women also feel an added stigma, especially if they are pregnant, she said.

“The level of shame is so great that they don’t even feel worth helping,” Kramer said. “There’s not a lot of motivation to seek services.”

Lipinski, a former state supervisor for child protective services, began treatment in 2012 but was in recovery for several years. That changed in 2018, when she was charged with felony resisting and obstructing police and misdemeanor drunk driving after she attempted to leave a downtown tavern. She insulted and kicked officers during her arrest.

Lipinski said she was in a blackout and only remembers bits and pieces of the night. When she woke up in a jail cell, where she spent the next few days, she knew her addiction was over.

“Call it a spiritual awakening, depending on where you’re from, but that’s when I really gave up,” Lipinski said. “Literally, I can say that’s when everything changed for me.”

She holds a master’s degree in social work and had 16 years of experience with CPS at the time, the last nine of which as a supervisor. She quit her job and started looking, but people wouldn’t hire her, that is, until Chris Hindbaugh, the former CEO of ATS, took a chance. She was hired to work part-time in the access center answering the phone and worked her way up to manager of the detox unit and head of impact.

Hindbaugh left in late June to take a job with a national nonprofit, and Lipinski was named CEO.

The separation of men and women in treatment began about 10 to 15 years ago and has become more normal, with women able to speak more freely about the stigma, as well as any trauma they may have experienced, Kramer said. .

Research has shown a significant link between addiction and trauma which can include physical or sexual assault, domestic violence, emotional or verbal abuse, and parental neglect.

Phoenix Hall closed in late December due to a staff shortage, Lipinski said. It quickly reopened under a new model, offering an intensive two-week program rather than the 30-90 day stay that is standard for most residential programs. It soon closed again, this time due to empty beds. Clients said the program was too short and too intense, Lipinski said.

She said ATS hopes to reopen Phoenix Hall in late fall as part of a program that would allow mothers to bring their children with them.

“There has always been a need for women and children and that’s where we want to focus,” Lipinski said.

April was the 11th consecutive month in which more than 4 million Americans quit their jobs, according to statistics from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest jobs report from the bureau shows unemployment fell to 3.5% as the number of unemployed fell to 5.7 million, pre-pandemic levels.

A survey conducted in February by the Pew Research Center indicates that people are not just leaving the workforce, they are finding jobs that pay better, offer more opportunities and are better suited to their lifestyle.

Lipinski said it’s very hard to compete with other places, like fast food restaurants that pay better, sometimes $20 an hour. ATS has raised its salary, but it’s a nonprofit with very thin margins, she said.

“We don’t have a product to sell, all we want to do is help people,” she said.

Lipinski said ATS had a basic staff and they couldn’t overwork them or they would leave too.

For now, ATS has a responsibility to women who need residential treatment and will go to the Northern Michigan Regional Entity, which administers Medicaid funding for 21 northern lower Michigan counties. The agency also keeps track of beds available in the region.

Daniel Hartman, executive director of Bear River Health, said it’s very difficult for small residential units to stay open because the costs of running a rehabilitation center are so high. Bear River opened six years ago and about a year ago bought a school that is now a residential treatment center.

“We had to expand to a bigger size or die,” Hartman said. “And we barely break even on any given day.

Hartman said ATS has been a strong partner in the battle of recovery and addiction, but no matter how big your heart, it doesn’t pay to serve 12 clients.

Bear River has a 24-bed, 140-bed men’s detox unit in Boyne Falls. The women’s center is located in Gaylord and serves clients from all over Michigan. It has an occupancy rate of 80-90%.

“Part of it is because we provide transportation,” Hartman said.

Top priority is given to pregnant intravenous drug users, with pregnant women being the second priority, he said. Bear River coordinates with obstetricians for their care.

The treatment goals for all women are reunification with their families, which can be a trigger for relapse. Many have not seen a doctor for a long time and have health problems. Many have legal problems or are on probation or parole. There is also the essential: housing and employment.

In general, there are fewer services for women, Hartman said.

“It’s because they have so many family needs that they have to get themselves in order before they can get treatment,” he said.

Huston Mayer, communications director for Bear River, said once women enter a program, they are highly engaged and tend to stay longer.

Lipinski said it took a lot of hard work and counseling to deal with her shame. But she’s always been brutally honest about her addiction.

“I lived in the shadows for a long time with my illness. I decided when I got sober that I wouldn’t live in the shadows anymore. That’s what kept me healthy.”

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