VYFS restores substance abuse treatment services

Four years after Vashon Youth & Family Services closed its drug and alcohol treatment program, the agency is offering the services again, with its leaders saying this time the services are here to stay.

The program, launched on May 1, is led by Chemical Dependency Professional Diane Hopkins and includes an outpatient group, which meets twice a week, and an intensive outpatient group, which meets three times a week, according to VYFS Executive Director Carol Goertzel. Most of the treatment is provided in groups, but individual counseling may also be available. The program also offers court-mandated urinalysis and provides referrals for in-patient treatment. By fall, it will be able to offer treatment ordered for impaired driving infractions. Also this fall, Goertzel said, the plan is to expand drug and alcohol treatment services for the high school and middle school.

Goertzel noted these new services are among several changes the agency has taken in recent months to better serve the community.

“We are very excited to offer this service again on the island,” she said. “We are expanding many services within our mission to meet the needs that come to us.”

Noting that the substance abuse program had failed before — previous Executive Director Kathleen Johnson closed it in 2014, citing financial difficulties — Director of Clinical Services Barbara Garrett said there are significant differences now.

“One of the main reasons it failed was the funding structure, but it has changed. We really feel strongly that this program is going to be successful,” she said.

She noted that previously, when clients were covered with Medicaid, payment was provided on a fee-for-service model, so if people did not show up or canceled, the agency did not get paid. Now, Garrett said, there is a managed care model in place, so VYFS will receive a set amount of money per person, regardless of the number of sessions they attend.

In addition to accepting clients with Medicaid for the addiction treatment program, VYFS accepts private insurance and private payments on a sliding scale.

The program started quietly, with just a few patients, but as it grows, Goertzel said, VYFS will add staff if necessary. They believe there are many islanders who would benefit from the services.

“We have heard from Neighborcare and other social service providers that the need is high,” Garrett added.

Goertzel stressed that the services are provided in an atmosphere free from judgment.

“We are here to help you in your recovery so you can live your life in a healthier way,” she said.

In addition to the drug and alcohol treatment services, VYFS has brought back VIVA, a longstanding program that was eliminated for cost reasons in 2015.

For almost a decade, VIVA had served islanders who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless, providing assistance with rent and utilities, emergency housing and access to social services, as well as food and medical vouchers. VYFS lost funding for the program and could not find adequate new support for it, closing the program three years ago.

Goertzel, who stepped in as the interim director after Johnson left last year, relaunched the program several months ago. It is now called VIVA = Life.

Still, there is no funding specifically for it, Goertzel said, but the agency is committed to trying to find financial support for it and is currently funding the services through its behavioral health program.

Additionally, the agency is working actively to reach out to the Hispanic community, Goertzel said, and has a grief group and coping skills group and will soon launch a girls empowerment group.

Finally, VYFS is also seeing increased demand for its counseling services; Garrett noted that in April, she completed more than 30 intakes for new clients. Previously, she added, the agency had one counselor working with children and families and now there are four.

She noted that for some people, seeking help on a small island raises privacy concerns, but both Goertzel and Garrett say they hope people will be undeterred, also noting that going off-island for services can be arduous.

“Driving down the highway is easier than getting on the ferry and driving in Seattle. There is easy access, and we are here for you,” Goertzel said.

Garrett concurred.

“There is such a great stigma to (seeking help for) mental health and drug and alcohol issues. Anything we can do to break down that stigma and make it more welcoming here, that is our goal,” she said. “This is a nonjudgmental zone.”

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