WRAL’s 2017 documentary, Searching for a Fix, features the story of Trinlie Yeaman, a mother doing what any parent would do to save their child from opioid addiction. In a space of just over five minutes (6:57 to 12:07) we hear Trinlie’s efforts to help her daughter Zoe, who at age 17 revealed that she was addicted to opioids. Unfortunately, this is a story that’s far too common for families seeking help for a loved one. The plotline of this story includes the frustration of finding accessible and specialized treatment. It includes the desperation of a mother pleading for help with magistrates and hospitals. It includes the moment where relief and hope emerge with word that Zoe has been accepted into an addiction specific treatment facility, followed by the panic that the bed for Zoe won’t be available for two weeks and the psychiatric unit can’t hold her until then. The story ends with the cruelest of twists. Three hours after Zoe’s fatal overdose, Trinlie receives a call from the treatment facility informing her that they can now accept her daughter for treatment.
A guiding principle and practice of Healing Transitions is providing help immediately (services on demand). Delaying access to services creates unnecessary risk for individuals, families and communities. The story of Trinlie and Zoe describes the absolute worst possible outcome when this happens: a young woman who never got the opportunity for treatment and a mother left with unimaginable heartbreak.
No one left behind
Upholding this practice at Healing Transitions has become challenging due to an increased demand for services and our practice of never turning a person away. From 2001 to 2017, we experienced a 159% increase in our average daily census (107 per night to 277 per night) and an 84% increase in the number of individuals served per year (1,107 to 2,034).
A lot is required of our staff in order to uphold this practice. While I say, “we can’t risk turning someone away,” they’re the ones left figuring out where to fit that one more mat on the floor.
Two things have recently led me to reflect more upon the magnitude of this responsibility and burden imposed upon staff to uphold this practice.
First, our designed capacity between both campuses is 299 beds. For perspective, in June we averaged 309 per night. In July we averaged 314 per night. For the year, we’re averaging 299 per night.
The second thing was taking a closer look at the number of individuals we’re serving. This was an eye-opening discovery. For perspective, we’ve experienced a modest increase of 5.75% in the number of individuals served from year to year from 2014 to 2017 (1,720, 1,815, 1936, and 2,034). I was stunned to discover that through June 30 of this year, we’ve already served 1,266 individuals, putting us on pace to surpass 2,500 individuals in 2018. This represents a 23% increase in one year. And the only other time we experienced such dramatic increase is when we opened the Women’s Campus.
This discovery has prompted me to write this in order to provide an overdue acknowledgment of our frontline staff and participants, the unsung heroes of Healing Transitions. The staff who are working in Detox, the Shelter and the Recovery Program. The participants who provide the support and assistance to staff.
I want the community and our supporters to know that they’re the fabric of the safety net that serves the most vulnerable in our community: addicted individuals who are homeless, uninsured and underserved.
In addition to always accommodating individuals, families, and the community, they provide so much more:
- Lifesaving interventions. Our staff and participants are all trained in opioid overdose prevention and Naloxone administration. Naloxone is distributed around the campuses like fire extinguishers. Because of our staff and participants, and some grace, we’ve successfully reversed 12 overdoses on our property, without experiencing any loss of life.
- Overdose prevention through education and Naloxone distribution.
- Recovery hospitality as characterized by empathy, compassion, understanding and acceptance.
- Hope for recovery and a vision for a new life that is often obscured by shame, isolation and an overwhelming number of obstacles.
- Addiction first aid by tending to the injuries and insults that result from addiction (i.e. a meal, a shower, clean clothes, linkage to healthcare services for abscesses).
- Linkage to treatment, recovery housing, recovery support and harm reduction services.
- Support to first responders by accommodating citizens who they’re assisting and trying to divert from jails and emergency departments (perhaps my favorite example of this may be the time staff cleaned the back of an officer’s cruiser after an intoxicated gentleman vomited in it).
- Support and resources for families whose lives are often characterized by overwhelming worry, confusion, hurt and anger.
- Support for the community as the opioid crisis extends beyond traditional institutions and is now impacting individuals who have been impacted by witnessing overdoses in the community.
And they do this work with accumulating exposure to loss of life (five confirmed overdose deaths in 2018 of former participants; 12 confirmed overdoses in 2017).
This is a small attempt to acknowledge their enormous efforts and to let the community know about the life saving work being provided by these unsung heroes. I invite you to express your appreciation for their service by sharing your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Chris Budnick, Executive Director, Healing Transitions