Health

Heroin's Hold: Heart of Iowa offers long-term rehabilitation for women and children

Residential program designed for women with children

Abby makes a sandwich for Elliott in the kitchen of her apartment at Heart of Iowa in Cedar Rapids on Friday, May 13, 2016. “I haven’t spent this much time with him before now,” she says as she relates how challenging it was during her first 30 days of treatment to be a good mom while constantly thinking about getting high.  (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Abby makes a sandwich for Elliott in the kitchen of her apartment at Heart of Iowa in Cedar Rapids on Friday, May 13, 2016. “I haven’t spent this much time with him before now,” she says as she relates how challenging it was during her first 30 days of treatment to be a good mom while constantly thinking about getting high. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Abby starts every day surrounded by the women of Heart of Iowa to talk about goals and recite affirmations.

“Elliott needs a mom and not a headstone.”

“I know I’m a strong confident and beautiful woman who deserves recovery.”

She’s spent the past two months at Heart of Iowa — the Area Substance Abuse Council’s residential program for women and their children — and will complete the program at the end of June.

The women admitted into Heart of Iowa have full days, starting at 8:30 a.m. and going until 7 p.m. They work through a comprehensive curriculum, spanning relapse prevention and tobacco cessation to nutrition, budgeting and parenting. They attend group therapy, individual counseling and have opportunities to work with their family members.

“It’s a pretty busy schedule,” said Wanda Mokry-Sellers, Heart of Iowa director. “It’s hard when they’re used to getting high and not doing much.”

The residential treatment program has been around for the past 20 years. It was created in response to a high percentage of women opting out of residential treatment facilities because they didn’t want to put their children in the foster care system.

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Heart of Iowa offers intensive inpatient treatment, mental health counseling, life skills training, on-site licensed child care and furnished on-site apartments. There are fewer than a dozen similar programs in the state — including in Des Moines, Sioux City, Ottumwa and Clinton — and the Department of Human Services estimates it refers about 100 women a year to these programs. That means Heart of Iowa generally has a waiting list with up to 20 names on it.

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“It’s a long program, so it can be hard to get into,” Mokry-Sellers said, explaining the Area Substance Abuse Council (ASAC) gives preference to pregnant women and women who use needles. To compensate, the campus has grown over the years from eight apartment units to 36 — including units in its halfway house, transitional living places that provide supportive but more relaxed living environments. Additional transitional housing units are available through ASAC off-site for families, and ASAC also offers intensive outpatient treatment.

Women are more likely to abuse drugs if their partner also uses, she said, so Heart of Iowa works with ASAC’s main residential campus to get both parents the substance abuse counseling they need.

“We want them to be healthy adults and good parents,” she added.

Mokry-Sellers said the majority of women who come to Heart of Iowa for treatment are addicted to Methamphetamine, but she’s certainly seen an increase in the number of women admitted who use heroin or opioids, estimating they make up 25 percent of Heart of Iowa’s client’s currently. According to ASAC data, 18 of the 274 women who sought treatment in 2015 were addicted to heroin or opioids.

The women take a trip to Hy-Vee once a week to purchase groceries and have free time on the weekends. They don’t have access to their cars — Abby has to take the bus to visit Elliott’s father at ASAC’s adult residential facility — and they have to eat lunch and dinner during the week with the group.

Pregnant women are housed together, but the women and their children are given their own apartments — which is not always the case at rehabilitation facilities, Abby said.

“It’s nice to get to go home at 7 — to have that time away from each other,” she said. “With some other programs, you’re with those people all of the time. You can’t get away.”

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