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VYFS hopes program changes will better serve islanders’ needs

Vashon Youth & Family Services, the island’s largest social service agency, recently restructured in an effort to better serve those in need of both mental health and addiction treatment services.

The change, which combined the agency’s mental health care and addiction therapy programs into one division, was several months in the making and is in line with current practices at similar agencies and new policies at the state level, said Kathleen Johnson, the executive director of VYFS.

Johnson knew of this trend when she started at the agency last January, she said, and she believes the move makes sense because mental health problems and addiction frequently co-exist.

“I think it is a great step forward for patients,” Johnson said. “A person walking in our door has access to both (services) seamlessly.”

While clients will notice few changes on the mental health side of the new Behavioral Health Services division, there have been new staff hired at the addiction treatment program, and new internal systems have been put in place to ensure smooth communication and improved care for clients, Johnson said.

The addiction treatment program, now named Outpatient Addiction Recovery Services (OARS), is licensed by the state and offers youth and adult substance abuse prevention, intervention, assessments, outpatient treatment and aftercare support. In addition to treating substance abuse, staff with the program also offer services for people coping with addictive behaviors and eating disorders. In time, Johnson said, she would like to see the program grow to one that can provide more intensive services and to offer more

OARS has replaced the Holistic Approaches to Recovery Treatment (HART) program, which was established in 2009 to serve island youth and was headed by islander Marianne Rose. After watching how services were delivered “on the ground” at VYFS, Johnson said VYFS staff decided to restructure in June and began making the necessary staffing changes to accomplish it. Rose is no longer with the agency, and last week two new employees began working as clinical directors of OARS, one on a temporary basis. Jeffrey Zheutlin, who has been with VYFS for more than 20 years and was the clinical director for the past eight, is now the clinical director of the new division, which he believes will serve islanders well.

“We will have a program in place that is going to grow and will serve multiple needs,” he said. “It will be very accessible, very understandable.”

While the HART program grew to serve adults, Zheutlin said it was slow to expand and served just 50 people last year — a fraction of people on the island that he and Johnson believe would benefit from addiction services.

“The island has a greater need than we’re serving. We’re certain of that,” Johnson said.

As was true with the HART program, the services OARS offers will be based on a client’s needs and will include group counseling and individual therapy sessions, Johnson said, and follow best practices in the industry based on psychological and scientific research.

To help spread the word about the changes that have taken place, the new clinical supervisor will reach out to island health care providers and lawyers, Johnson said, and Zheutlin will be in touch with people who attend some of the 12-step meetings on the island. Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) sometimes do not have a smooth fit with chemical dependency treatment programs, Zheutlin said, but he has a good relationship with many of the participants of the programs and believes important bridges can be built between OARS and AA and NA.

Zheutlin and Johnson have been networking in the wider Puget Sound region and learning about successful approaches at agencies that offer both services under one umbrella and will continue this kind of research as they move ahead, they said. Zheutlin also spoke to the qualifications and the skills the new staff members bring.

“We’re bringing in some experts,” he said. “We want to utilize their expertise.”

Filling the new clinical supervisor role is Heather Youngs, who moved to the island from Hawaii with her partner and their 2-year-old twin daughters in November. Youngs said they moved to Vashon because they thought it would be a good place to raise children.

“We always had our eye on Vashon,” she said.

Though just settling in on her first day last week, Youngs said she was pleased to be selected for the new position, as she enjoys working in the mental health field and appreciates serving as a clinical supervisor, which is a multi-faceted position and allows her to work with both staff and clients.

She is credentialed as a licensed mental health counselor and a chemical dependency professional and comes highly recommended, Zheutlin said. For the last six years, Youngs worked in Honolulu with homeless people and the chronically mentally ill and prior to that in Seattle as a clinical supervisor at the Community Psychiatric Clinic.

Because her credentials are from Hawaii, she must now go through the process of becoming credentialed in Washington, Johnson said, a process that could take up to six months. To assist while that process is under way, VYFS has also hired an interim clinical supervisor, Rita Szantay, who has a long background in mental health,  chemical dependency treatment and primary care.

Johnson noted that many people go off the island for addiction services, but she hopes with these changes in place, people will feel they can get their needs met on Vashon.

“We want to be a provider people can turn to on the island,” she said.

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