CORONAVIRUS

Recovery groups strive to keep helping those struggling with addiction, mental health, during pandemic

Coronavirus-enforced social distancing has intensififed concerns

Kelly Reitzler, Recovery Center Director at the Area Substance Abuse Council, is photographed on the ASAC campus in Ceda
Kelly Reitzler, Recovery Center Director at the Area Substance Abuse Council, is photographed on the ASAC campus in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, April 9, 2020. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — In her time as an inpatient at the Area Substance Abuse Council Rehabilitation Center, Jolene has learned how to deal with anxiety, worry and anger as those feelings relate to her alcoholism and depression.

“We have groups together where we share assignments on our feelings,” said Jolene, who is only being identified by her first name to protect her privacy. “We all give input and feedback. We’ve learned how to handle those situations.”

Recent circumstances related to the COVID-19 pandemic have magnified the need to learn how to grapple with those intense emotions, Jolene said. Due to social distancing guidelines and measures to protect others from the spread of the virus, many people are isolated, anxious and afraid for what the future may hold.

Jolene said the COVID-19 has been a “great practicing tool” for people like her receiving care through services such as ASAC.

“It’s very hard to be isolated,” she said. “It’s really hard on our anxiety and our depression — all of the triggers we try to stay away from.”

Jolene said at ASAC she has access to not only food and shelter, but also support and education from those trained to help her deal with the stress brought on the pandemic.

“It is priceless being the lucky ones here,” she said.

Organizations such as ASAC and Prelude Behavioral Services in Iowa City that provide services to those with addictions said the coronavirus outbreak has presented challenges. But, as with many other organizations, they are adapting to continue to provide care to their clients during a crucial time.

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“At the end of the day, it boils down to life or death.” said Kelly Reitzler, recovery center director for ASAC. “Our patients’ addiction ... will become fatal if not managed or treated.”

Mark Berg, Prelude’s chief executive officer, said they continue to provide residential and outpatient services. But the way those services are delivered have changed somewhat.

Prelude still is accepting referrals for residential treatment. Those patients are screened for signs of COVID-19 when they arrive.

“So far, we’ve been very fortunate we haven’t had anybody come in with concerns,” Berg said.

In terms of outpatient services, Berg said initial evaluations are being done online. Conversations with counselors and individual sessions also are done online, using either video or solely audio meetings, Berg said.

Although Prelude hasn’t initially offered group sessions online, Berg said they hope to slowly build up those services.

Jeannette Archer-Simmons, executive director of ASAC, said COVID-19 has affected its operations, too. Archer-Simmons said ASAC has fewer beds available because new patients are being segregated when they enter residential treatment, and as have those showing any signs of illness.

Services delivered to residents also have changed.

“It’s unfortunate, but because we now need to practice social distancing, our group sizes are smaller,” Archer-Simmons said. “We can’t have a large amount of individuals in the same room together.”

Activities outside the facility have been reduced to protect staff and patients.

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Archer-Simmons said ASAC went to “100 percent” telehealth for outpatient services during the pandemic. Such a shift in the delivery of services normally would have taken about six to eight months to plan and implement, she said.

“It took us about seven days,” Archer-Simmons said.

Patients receiving outpatient services have adapted well to the changes and seem to appreciate the efforts made to continue delivering care, Archer-Simmons said.

“Our no-show rates are actually dropping” she said. “It eliminates transportation barriers.

“It creates the opportunity for them to continue treatment. They don’t have to worry about being safe in their travels.”

ASAC’s Reitzler said it has been a challenge, however. Residents are concerned not only for themselves but also for loved ones outside the facility. Families are unable to visit and residents can feel trapped, Reitzler said.

In addition, staff members have their own concerns about their well-being and their loved ones.

“It’s been challenging,” Reitzler admitted. “We’ve been pretty lucky. We’ve got a pretty amazing team of people. Our patients have been amazing.”

Efforts to help those in recovery also are being made at the individual level.

Dusty Swehla, owner of Panda Marie, offers holistic therapy to those with suffering from addiction, anxiety or depression. While not an addiction specialist, Swehla — who said she is in recovery for alcohol use — helps her clients make choices that lead to a healthy lifestyle.

One service Swehla has adapted during the pandemic is her yoga for a 12-step addiction recovery program. Typically offered in her yoga studio, Swehla has taken the approach online with daily live videos on her Facebook page.

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“It’s for any level,” she said. “It’s for anyone and everyone dealing with their own addictive behaviors or dealing with the addictive behaviors of others.”

Swehla said the morning sessions begin with going through the 12 steps and a brief reading from a recovery book before moving into yoga. She said that, as participants go through yoga poses, they are able to absorb and process the messages from the reading.

Swehla believes this is a crucial time for those in recovery.

“I know that this is a time where we are isolated and we are alone,” she said. “That’s when the demons — that addiction — come knocking on our shoulder.”

Archer-Simmons said the response to the virtual delivery of addiction services has been so good, and she hopes those opportunities still exist when the pandemic ends. But she is eager to resume in person services.

“I think we all miss a little human contact, too,” she said. “There’s something to be said for having the personal interface. I think people may be seeking that once this is over.”

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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