For a little more than a year, the Downeast Treatment Center in Ellsworth has been working with area hospitals and organizations to help those with substance use disorders. Now, treatment center leaders are hoping to expand on the help being provided.
The opioid crisis affects people across the entire state and now the Downeast Treatment Center is providing more opportunity for those people seeking help.
“I don’t know if I‘d be alive,” said DTC patient Ryan Miller. “I really think this place saved my life.”
Before Miller was a patient at the center he was behind bars. Now he’s employed and in his own words, picking up the pieces of his life.
“This and the structure from the Hancock County Drug Court program really has brought me a long way in life,” he said.
Leaders at the center are now focused on removing barriers to treatment so that more people can find help.
“Through a federal grant that’s come through Healthy Acadia we’re able to pay for treatment for people who either don’t have insurance or don’t have enough insurance so that cost is no longer a barrier,” said Healthy Acadia Community Health Program Manager Penny Guisinger. “It’s no cost to services to people who would benefit from that.”
The DTC provides medication-assisted treatment, using doctor-prescribed Suboxone to fight addiction.
“It takes care of cravings, and it keeps people from going into withdrawal, and those two single issues will wreck someones life,” said DTC Clinical Advisory Committee member Dr. Julian Kuffler.
Medication-assisted treatment paired with group counseling is what’s helping get addicts on the path to recovery.
“Being here is the only time they can talk about their recovery and their struggles,” said DTC Substance Abuse Counselor Lisa Groo. “Being out in the big wide world…there’s a stigma attached”
Through customized treatment plans, expanded hours and financial assistance, DTC leaders are hoping to help even more people.
For over a decade, people in The County suffering from brain injuries have turned their experiences into art as part of the Center for Integrated Neuro Rehabilitation (CINR) program based in Caribou. Now, that art is on display at the Caribou Public Library for the entire month.
Pam Searles, a clinical consultant with CINR, said this is the first time the facility has ever showcased their clients art via a public display.
Keely LeBlanc, a CINR brain injury support specialist, said she often uses art as a medium through which her clients can both express themselves and re-develop skills that may have been lost due to a neurological condition.
“They did such a great job,” said LeBlanc,” that Pam suggested we contact the library and see if they would like to hold a display.”
Caribou Public Library Director Hope Shafer said she and the library staff were “thrilled” and “excited” to bring awareness to the public about both the center and people in the area dealing with brain injuries.
“We hope to bring awareness by having this group showcase the incredible art their clients have done,” she said, “and to help others recognize why this artwork is so incredible.”
Searles said CINR, which is part of the Aroostook Mental Health Center (AMHC), primarily focuses on helping those with trauma or an acquired brain injury to get back into and functioning in society. That goal is accomplished through many outlets, such as art, she said.
“Art helps them manage their emotions,” said Kevin Huston, a rehabilitation technician at CINR, “and to express things that otherwise can’t be expressed. Some of our people have aphasia, or the inability to use words, so it’s a useful outlet. If a right-handed person has a stroke and loses the ability to use that side of their body, they really have to concentrate on things like drawing and using their motor skills.”
LeBlanc said she hopes the exhibit will help members of the community learn more about the experiences of people with brain injuries.
“I hope people will know that those with a brain injury can do the same things others can,” she said. She wants folks “to look at them as a human being, and know that while sometimes they may look OK, you may not be able to tell visually that something has happened to them. Often times people don’t take into account that there are things below the surface.”
Huston said this is one of the primary misconceptions about brain injuries, adding that it “is not always evident,” and that people with brain injuries sometimes exhibit different characteristics.
The art pieces themselves were drawn as part of the program’s efforts to improve motor function, the following of directions, and problem solving. For one project, clients had to draw straight lines and follow a pattern, while another involved placing beans over a tracing of an image.
LeBlanc said that some aspects that go beyond the directions, such as which colors to choose, can be overwhelming to certain patients and may cause them to stop. Other clients, however, began with specific patterns in mind and ended up becoming so absorbed in the project that the end result did not resemble their original intention.
“For some people,” LeBlanc said, “it can be hard to plan out. It can be overwhelming.”
David LeTourneau, a CINR brain injury specialist, said the organization’s specific mission is to work with people so they can become “as independent as they can possibly be.”
“We want to help people acquire the skills needed to obtain their own apartment,” he said, “or to do their own grocery shopping.”
CINF is CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) accredited, and while it specializes in brain injury rehabilitation, staffers also are able to help clients get in touch with other mental health professionals working under AMHC.
Jamie Owens, director of marketing and development at AMHC, said the organization has been providing services to people in Aroostook, Washington, and Hancock counties since 1970. AMHC now serves about 6,000 clients annually.
Searles said that if a client comes in with issues related to mental health counseling or substance abuse, CINR staff will make referrals to the appropriate organization.
“We all collaborate together,” she said, “to help support our clients’ needs.”
While the library exhibit had only been up a few days, Shafer said she’s already heard a great deal of positive feedback from patrons.
“Most are drawn immediately because of the artwork,” she said, “and will say that they need to bring their mom or relative back so they can see it. The display brings out a lot of stories from people with family members who have had injuries, and I’ve heard people say they wish this had been available for their uncle, aunt, cousin, sister, or friend. We are blessed to have this available in Aroostook County.”
AMHC is pleased to welcome Christy Daggett, MPP, as AMHC’s new Chief Financial and Administrative Officer. As the Chief Financial and Administrative Officer, she is responsible for providing leadership for the financial and administrative systems of the organization. Prior to joining AMHC, she has worked in public service in Maine for close to a decade, holding program-oriented and leadership roles at MCD Public Health, the Maine Center for Economic Policy, and the Aroostook County Action Program. She has served as Board President of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Maine Affiliate, President of the Aroostook Training and Education Coalition (ATEC), and Board Member of the Maine Children’s Alliance. A native of Presque Isle, Christy earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maine and her master’s in Public Policy and Management from the Edmund S. Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. She has testified as an expert on rural public policy issues before the Maine Legislature, and her pieces have been published in many statewide and national forums, including health policy research on Medicaid expansion, health care price transparency, cancer screening access for rural Mainers, and the correlation between school-based health clinics and better graduation and attendance outcomes for K-12 students.
Significant progress has been made in the AIDS response since 1988, and today three in four people living with HIV know their status. But we still have miles to go, as the latest UNAIDS report shows, and that includes reaching people living with HIV who do not know their status and ensuring that they are linked to quality care and prevention services. So, don’t wait, this World AIDS Day, take a quiz to help you know your status at https://www.kff.org/quiz/hivaids-quiz/.
FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — An advocacy center focused on serving children and families affected by sexual abuse in Aroostook County recently opened in Fort Fairfield and hopes to collaborate with other local agencies to provide crucial services that have not always been readily available.
The Aroostook County Children’s Advocacy Center is a division of the Aroostook Mental Health Center’s Sexual Assault Services and a part of the Maine Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers. Staff members serve children aged 4 to 18 as well as adults with developmental disabilities throughout Aroostook County.
Program Coordinator Lydia Christie said that the center’s staff members utilize a “multi-disciplinary team” approach in which they collaborate with law enforcement, officials from the Aroostook County District Attorney’s office and Child Protective Services during a family’s visit to ensure that they have access to any services they might need.
“Before children’s advocacy centers existed, law enforcement would often respond to a report of sexual abuse but not always know where to refer families for advocacy, counseling or legal services,” Christie said.
Families also would have had to travel as far as Portland to the Spurwink clinic, which provides forensic medical exams for children who have reported experiencing sexual abuse. Although Spurwink hosts monthly clinics at locations throughout the state, the nearest of those clinics is in Bangor.
The staff members at the Aroostook County Children’s Advocacy Center are working with Spurwink to eventually offer forensic medical exams at the Fort Fairfield location, thus eliminating the travel barrier that many families can face when seeking the specialized medical service. They also plan to offer evidence-based counseling services on site to ensure that any service that families might seek out exist under one roof.
In addition to Christie, the CAC staff includes forensic interviewer Laurie Deschaine, who conducts a private interview with victims regarding their alleged abuse, and Kate Bartlett, a family advocate who first meets with families, refers them to outside legal, medical or counseling services, and works to provide comfort to children while parents and guardians meet with law enforcement.
“My goal as an advocate is to have families leave here with the necessary appointments already scheduled,” Bartlett said. “I also follow up with families one week and then one month after their initial visit to help make sure nothing falls through the cracks.”
The CAC is a nonprofit organization that provides services free to families and receives funding from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Christie said that the first conversations about opening such a center in northern Maine began five years ago when lawmakers in the state Legislature passed the Child and Family Services and Child Protection Act. The law stated that all counties in Maine must establish a Children’s Advocacy Center that provides multidisciplinary services for children affected by sexual abuse.
In 2015, CAC staff members in Aroostook County formally received funding from DHHS, thus allowing them to develop services that align with their goal of receiving national accreditation. Officials from Northern Light A.R. Gould Hospital, then known as The Aroostook Medical Center, later offered to house the center at its health center in Fort Fairfield.
Christie noted that the CAC has received much support and financial donations from the community during the renovation of its current office space. On Saturday, Nov. 24, the center will be one of the organizations to benefit from funds collected from the Presque Isle Rotary Club’s annual TV auction.
“None of this could have been possible without the community stepping up and realizing everyone’s responsibility in keeping children safe,” Christie said.
Though statistics say that one in every five people in Maine will experience sexual violence at some point in their lives, Christie said, that type of data is harder to track with children, as many might go years without reporting an incident. Many children might not have the words to describe what happened to them and in some situations could feel shamed or scared into staying silent by their abuser.
If a child comes forward about sexual abuse, Christie and CAC staff members encourage adults to remain calm and assure the child that what they’ve experienced is not their fault.
“We want to be here for families and let them know that they’re not alone,” Christie said. “It’s our responsibility as a community to make sure all children feel safe.”