VYFS closes addiction treatment program

Vashon Youth & Family Services (VYFS) recently announced it will close its addiction treatment program and has begun working with clients to connect them with appropriate services inside and outside the agency.

Kathleen Johnson, the executive director of VYFS, announced the decision earlier this month, indicating that the finances of its Outpatient Addiction and Recovery Services (OARS) made closing it a necessity, but still a hard call.

“It was not an easy decision,” she said in an interview last week. “We have to do what we think is best for the island.”

Last summer, VYFS restructured its addiction treatment program, bringing the services under the same umbrella as the mental health program. Despite the staff’s best efforts, Johnson said, OARS —  the only state-licensed chemical dependency program on the island — continued to lose money. The program was never self sufficient, she said, and continuing to operate it would have drawn funds away from other needed services. Reaching out to the community to fund the program did not seem like a viable solution, she said, and after consulting with the VYFS board, OARS staff and other King County providers, she made the final decision to close the program two weeks ago.

At the time of the decision, 35 people were enrolled in the program and 21 were participating actively, Johnson said. Now staff is working with them to determine if their needs can be met through the VYFS mental health counseling program and if not, staff is trying to connect them to appropriate services.

“The bottom line is we are committed to making sure everyone gets the care they need,” she said.

While VYFS counseling staff will not include any employees credentialed as chemical dependency professionals, some members will receive additional training in chemical dependency treatment and provide care accordingly, Johnson said.

Both Johnson and Jeffrey Zheutlin, the VYFS clinical director, point to the small number of people who sought recovery services as a contributing factor to the program’s poor financial health. Combined, OARS and its preceding program, Holistic Approaches to Recovery Treatment, which opened in 2009, served less than 100 clients in the last four years. Zheutlin said staff had hoped that the restructuring of the program eight months ago would have made the program sustainable, but it did not.

“We have come to the realization that with the small number of people enrolled and the structure of the payments, we can’t afford to run a stand-alone chemical dependency treatment program on Vashon,” Zheutlin said in a press release.

Compounding factors, he noted, include the county’s current reimbursement system, which does not provide payment when patients miss an appointment, even though staff time must still be accounted for, and legal requirements for chemical dependency professionals. These requirements result in a high level of overhead in terms of staff experience and documentation, creating further financial stress for a small program.

While VYFS is shuttering its program, Johnson said those seeking care for themselves or a family member should still call the agency.

“If it’s something we can address, we will,” she said.

Additionally, should the person require inpatient treatment — a service VYFS has never offered — the agency might be able to assist with needed after care.

“It’s entirely possible we would be able to provide necessary services on the island,” she said. “It really depends on the needs of the particular patient.”

Three staff members and a contract employee, all part-time, are losing their jobs as part of the OARS closure, Johnson said, calling them all “outstanding professionals.”

“We will work with those affected to try to find internal placements or to support them in identifying other options,” she said.

Islanders seeking treatment for addiction should know that in addition to some services still being available at VYFS, other island professionals also provide substance abuse counseling services, including Marianne Rose and Stephen Bogan.

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