LEMOYNE, Pa. — The coronavirus pandemic has forced many drug and alcohol treatment centers to scale back operations or close indefinitely, leaving people with fewer options to get help and threatening to reverse recovery gains.
Some Pennsylvania treatment facilities shut down as the COVID-19 pandemic began to unravel. FOX43 Reveals how a recovery center in Cumberland County is expanding its services to help first responders at a time of increased anxiety and isolation.
A new support group meeting has emerged on Saturday mornings at Just For Today (JFT) Recovery and Veteran Support Services in Lemoyne. They are called H.E.R.O.S. meetings—as in “Help for EMS, Responders, Officers, and Service Men and Women.”
The meetings were started in July by a small group of recovery support advocates and the idea was spearheaded by Lisa Green, a Certified Recovery Specialist.
“What happens in H.E.R.O.S. meetings, stays in H.E.R.O.S. meetings,” Green said. “Even if there’s one person, that’s one person that we’re helping.”
The meetings touch base on addiction, mental health, diffusing, PTSD and provide coping mechanisms.
“First responders could really use a place to talk and get things off their chest. It can cause a lot of problems in somebody’s personal life if it’s not addressed so it’s important to get past that stigma,” said Scott Young, Veterans Services Coordinator at JFT Recovery.
First responders who bottle up their anxiety, depression or PTSD may turn to self-medicating and later face financial and personal issues with friends and family, Young said.
Officer John McPhillips knows the challenges all too well. He asked that we keep the name of the police department where he works confidential, but revealed a dark chapter from his past.
“One night, I caught a six-way fatal [car crash]. Six kids were killed by a DUI driver. The youngest one died in my arms. That one stuck with me and I knew walking away from that scene that this was going to be a problem for me,” said Officer McPhillips, an evidence technician.
At the time, his work performance dropped off, he developed a bad attitude towards people he cared about, he stopped doing what he loved and turned to alcohol—until he found help among his peers.
“And that was the point at which I realized that I had a moral responsibility to pay this forward. To be there for guys who might need my help down the road,” he said.
Officer McPhillips believes there are emergency personnel at just about any department suffering from PTSD, anxiety or depression after experiencing traumatic events on the job. It is just one of the many reasons why he joined H.E.R.O.S. meetings as a recovery support advocate.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, resources for people struggling with trauma or addiction have started to diminish. Since March, 10 drug and alcohol treatment centers in the Pennsylvania have shuttered operations.
“When a facility notifies the department of its closure they do not have to specify reasons, therefore we do not know whether their closure is Covid-related,” said Rachel Kostelac, communications director for the State Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs.
Health care experts with Well Being Trust, a national mental health organization, said only 1 in 9 people with a substance use disorder were getting care prior to the coronavirus pandemic. They worry that the closures of treatment facilities in Pennsylvania are part of a disturbing trend.
“Clinics are shutting down. They are turning the lights off because they are not having the revenue streams that they had previously,” said Dr. Ben Miller, Chief Strategy Officer at Well Being Trust. “Pennsylvania has a moment, we all have a moment, to step up and say are we doing everything within our power to provide support for individuals who have mental illness and addiction in our communities.”
Providing support for people who need it most is the goal of JFT Recovery. It is not only the backdrop of H.E.R.O.S. meetings—it’s a coffee shop, a food pantry, a thrift store and a place for heroes to break away from their suffering.
“This just a place for them to go, have other people they can relate to and share experiences to realize they’re not alone in this,” explained Green. “It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to learn mechanisms, tools, that they can use on a daily basis so they don’t have to hold all of this stuff in.”
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