SOUTHERN INDIANA — For people in active addiction or recovery, the isolation necessary to mitigate COVID-19 can bring on bigger challenges. But those who work with this population are adapting to ensure services are still available.
Lauren Perryman, vice president of Recovery Services at LifeSpring Health Systems, said the facilities are still operating as close to normal as possible while still observing health guidelines and mandates on social distancing.
They’re still accepting patients, and the admission process can be completed online. All of their usual services are still available, including primary care. Psychiatric sessions have largely moved to telehealth. Case managers and peer coaches are still meeting face-to-face with clients when needed, and therapists are available for people in crisis who don’t have access to phone or internet.
“Just reach out, ask for help,” she said. “It’s not a sign of weakness to need help right now — we all need it and we all need people in our community and our support systems. Don’t be afraid to reach out because there’s people here who are ready and waiting to help you.”
But she said one of the bigger changes right now is with group work — LifeSpring initially canceled groups for public health reasons and is working to get things online for telehealth sessions.
“Social support is definitely an important part of recovery,” Perryman said. “So there’s definitely an impact of not being able to have that in person group and I think that even once we start having it again via telehealth, it’s not the same.”
David Hayden, vice president at Spero Health, also said it’s crucial to keep services going for those in recovery, and their facilities have strived to do so.
“It’s been a really weird thing, the coronavirus impact on addiction,” he said. “Because all of the direction we’re getting is saying social distancing and stay home and limit your contact with people and that stops the spread of the disease and what we know about that.
“But as far as the treatment of substance use disorders, it calls for connection — you don’t want people to be alone or isolate, you want them to connect and get that recovery through others. So it’s been a real balancing act for us.”
Spero, which offers individual and group counseling, recovery support services, general physician services and medication assisted treatment, has moved group sessions to Zoom meetings and is doing telehealth when possible.
When patients or clients do need to be see in person, they have tried to stagger appointments to have as few people in the buildings as possible. They have about 100 clients total at the Jeffersonville location, and are accepting new ones.
“We kind of set up some guidelines on who needs to be seen in the office and who doesn’t,” Hayden said. “Those people that are more high risk for relapse we want to see more frequently in the office and we just do that in a way that follows the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines.”
Hayden said there has not been any disruption in clients being able to get medication and staff are working to get them connected with pharmacies that deliver. Their risk factors — social support network, coping skills, stressors, stage in recovery — dictate how often they are seen in the office.
“This has been more stressful for a lot of our patients,” he said, adding that “we are doing more frequent check-ins with them just to evaluate how they’re doing.”
A lot of 12-step programs — which many people rely on to maintain their sobriety — have also moved the group meetings to an online platform.
The website for Alcoholics Anonymous Area 23 — which includes cities and towns in Clark and Floyd counties — lists more than two dozen online AA meetings happening every day of the week right now.
“By attending digital meetings, group members can focus on A.A.’s primary purpose: to carry its message of recovery to the alcoholic who still suffers,” according to a news release issued March 23 by the A.A. General Service Office for the U.S. and Canada, which is a resource for local groups.
“A.A. in the digital age has certainly taken on a new meaning in these challenging times, reminding its members and those searching for help that A.A. is not just a ‘place,’ but exists in the hearts, minds and help offered.”
Perryman said she’s heard good things from LifeSpring clients who have attended the online groups.
“I’ve heard a lot of good feedback from clients about being able to participate in that virtually,” Perryman said. “It’s not the same, but it’s something. I think this will help to [be] that extra outlet, to openly talk to people who are going through the same thing or similar situations.”
She said that with LifeSpring, staff are also being extra-cognizant of people coming right out of in-patient facilities during this time.
“That’s a really difficult time to successfully complete this program, and go from a place where you have 24-hour support to you in person to a world that has decreased in-person contact so drastically,” she said.
“Our peer recovery coaches have been super helpful during this time because they have been a really good go-between between professional support and people who are navigating early recovery.”
LifeSpring also has a 24-hour crisis line at 812-280-2080.
Perryman said boredom itself can be a trigger for relapse, and she encouraged those in addiction to try to create healthy habits and routines to mitigate it — this could be as simple as going for a walk or finding a hobby they enjoy.
“You don’t have to do anything big, you don’t have to make any major life changes right now,” she said. “Your number one goal is to survive, both from COVID-19 as well as the crisis they were already dealing with out of addiction.”