WESTERLY — The founders of the Hope Recovery Community Center of Washington County say the facility will help address a glaring absence of services in the region. The center, at 55 Beach St., will offer peer recovery specialist support services for addicts and people struggling with substance abuse disorders and mental health problems.

About 50 people, most involved in recovery support, social services, or health care, gathered at the center Wednesday to celebrate its grand opening. It will be open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is an initiative of the Parent Support Network of Rhode Island, which operates other recovery centers in Warwick and Newport.

The need is clear: Lisa Conlan Lewis, executive director of the support network, said that Washington County has experienced more than 100 overdose fatalities since 2014 and has a suicide rate that is higher than the national average.

The center will offer mutual aid groups focused both on recovery and mental health. The groups are run by trained facilitators and serve as an alternative or supplement to 12-step groups. Wellness activities, training, outreach, community education and space for community groups to gather will also be offered.

The center will also advocate on behalf of people with substance abuse disorder in the area. Conlan Lewis noted one of the problems: "There is not much in the way of recovery housing in this community."

Dr. Ryan Carter, who chairs the Westerly Hospital Emergency Department, said that the presence of the center just down the hill from the hospital will allow for a more holistic approach to serving the needs of people with substance abuse disorders.

"There are patients we see in the emergency room who need medical services as well as the type of services that will be provided here. I think sometimes there is an artificial line drawn between medical services and social services, but it's those linkages that can, ideally, get patients to all of the services they need," Carter said.

The center was established with a $300,000 grant from the state Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Development Disabilities and Hospitals. The grant was derived from a two-year, $25 million allotment the General Assembly approved as part of the State Overdose Response initiative. The funds were made available by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Conlan Lewis said the Parent Support Network is working on a plan to make the center sustainable beyond its first two years. While the center's services are available free of charge regardless of whether individuals are insured, she said the services of peer recovery specialists are reimbursable by Medicaid — a source of revenue for the center.

"We have an open door policy. Funding is something we work on behind the scenes," Conlan Lewis said.

Jessica Jalbert, director of the Westerly center, stressed the importance of offering services focused on both substance abuse and mental health, saying the two conditions are often related and are ones she had to address early in her own recovery. "I had to figure out how I was going to deal with these things because I didn't want to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms," she said.

Through her experience working as a recovery coach at both Westerly Hospital and South County Hospital, Jalbert said she came to realize the need for additional services in Westerly. "We really needed something more, we needed a hub," she said.

The center's filling of a void of services for people with substance abuse disorders was a theme that emerged during the grand opening celebration.

Rebecca Boss, BHDDH director co-chair of the state Overdose Task Force, said state officials had been repeatedly alerted to the need for additional services in Washington County.

"Every community is different...and every community has its unique needs and solutions," Boss said.

The center will also offer the Parent Support Network's Fatherhood Initiative, which is coordinated by Robert Reynolds, a peer recovery specialist. The initiative aims to help fathers in crisis get through legal proceedings and interactions with the state Department of Children, Youth and Families. Efforts are also underway, Reynolds said, to enact a new state law that would preserve father's rights.

Like many others, Reynolds said he was pleased to be working in Westerly. "There's no help down here. This way there will be resources here where a lot of people don't have rides," he said.

Mutual aid groups will meet at the center. Conlan Lewis said the groups are helpful to people who may not feel comfortable with the 12-step approach to recovery (Alcoholics Anonymous and its cousins) or people who are exploring their best path to recovery. "Not everyone resonates with one particular way," she said.

(These mutual aid groups, Self Management and Recovery Training and Wellness Recovery Action Plan, have been given acronyms: SMART and WRAP.)

Sal Guido, a Westerly native who will work at the center as a peer recovery specialist, said the specialists offer people who are new to recovery the perspective of someone who "has been there, done that, and is trying to help. Maybe we can start them on their way and open them up to some things they didn't know were there," Guido said.

Conlan Lewis said the center will provide clients with a connection. If necessary, she said, peer recovery specialists can work with individuals for eight hours per day. "Through intensive one-on-one support we  want to help people get from point A to point B, not just provide a phone number," she said.

Ian Knowles, project director for Rhode Island Communities for Addiction Recovery, said the center's opening reminded him of the time when the first Anchor recovery center opened in Pawtucket, in 2010.

"It's a community center, not a drop in center but a place with meaningful activities," Knowles said.


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