VYFS to begin offering chemical dependency treatment

Vashon Youth & Family Services earned a state and county license last week as a chemical dependency outpatient treatment center. Beginning next month, it will be the first Island nonprofit organization to offer such services free to low-income Islanders.

The nonprofit has offered limited chemical dependency services and case management for the last six months, said VYFS executive director Sam Collins, but will soon be able to dramatically expand its offerings. He said he hopes the program will serve 10 to 15 people at a time, both adults and youth.

The new chemical dependency program comes at a time when there is heightened awareness in the community about drug and alcohol use among the Island’s young people and the general Vashon population. Last year, a Healthy Youth Survey revealed that more Island youth use drugs and alcohol than do their peers statewide.

This year’s Healthy Youth Survey results, which shows some considerable increases in Island youth drug and alcohol abuse, will be made public at tomorrow’s school board meeting.

Previous chemical dependency organizations have come and gone on Vashon, and today there is only one other treatment center on the Island — the Brahman Institute, a “holistic, spiritually based program” that offers outpatient treatment, like VYFS plans to, but also an intensive outpatient program, said Islander Nigel Lott, who runs the Brahman Institute. The institute accepts patients with any insurance and offers services on a flexible sliding scale.

But VYFS, which is located on the Vashon High School campus, will be able to see clients at no charge if their income is modest enough that they qualify for Medicaid or other public benefits. Those who don’t qualify for free care will be able to pay for chemical dependency services out of pocket. Additionally, VYFS always provides services on a sliding scale.

Chemical Dependency Provider Marianne Rose works at VYFS and will offer clients one-on-one and group sessions and classes about the nature of addiction beginning next month.

“It’s exciting,” Collins said. “It’s a need on the Island, especially among the youth. ... This is a needed and ignored service.”

He said the agency has invested $25,000 in staff time and initial costs in the last year to get the program on its way.

“We’re hoping to roll out our program and be really able to provide services in September,” he said. “We have to get the final dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s in place.”

It’s important that there are chemical dependency services on Vashon, Collins said, because those who could benefit from treatment may not be willing or able to make trips off-Island. Stephen Bogan, an Island drug and alcohol counselor and nationally certified addiction specialist who has worked with VYFS to address Vashon’s substance abuse issues, concurred.

“There are not many people on the Island who are doing drug and alcohol treatment, and there’s an agreement that there is a drug and alcohol problem here,” he said. “I think the more the merrier when it comes to treatment options.”

Collins said the agency has already seen one success story, a long-term patient who comes to VYFS for mental health treatment and who has also benefited from its chemical dependency offerings. At VYFS staff’s urging, the individual was motivated to enter an inpatient chemical dependency treatment program, Collins said.

While Bogan offers drug and alcohol counseling on a sliding scale, he said he’s unable to offer intensive, free treatment, and he’s happy to know that Islanders who need such a program will be able to go to VYFS.

And sometime next year, patients with insurance will be able to pay for treatment at VYFS via their health insurance, Collins said.

Collins said something that has been a barrier to Islanders getting chemical dependency treatment on Vashon in the past is the issue of confidentiality. A strength of VYFS is that it offers a multitude of services at the same location. When a person’s car is parked outside of VYFS, others won’t know the person is seeking chemical dependency treatment or another service.

“They could be here for any number of reasons — a community meeting, volunteering, counseling, going to a parenting class,” Collins said.

Collins said he’s looking forward to seeing the much-needed program take flight.

“We’re trying to build a high-quality and affordable model, and we think if people seek it out, we’ll be OK,” Collins said. “Mental health is very different than chemical dependency treatment, ... and now we have the tools and the skills to help them, too.”

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