Vashon Youth & Family Service began offering substance abuse treatment slightly more than a year ago, and now agency officials say it is strong and poised to grow.
Called Elements of Recovery, the program provides confidential assessments as well as individual and group sessions, with treatment tailored to the needs of the individuals seeking assistance, according to VYFS Executive Director Carol Goertzel.
Services also include helping people find detox services and in-patient programs as well as offering outpatient follow-up once the person returns home. During the school year, a new group for students will also be offered. Since launching last May, the program has served 36 people and could accommodate as many as 75 each year.
Diane Hopkins is the clinical supervisor for the program. While she would like to see the groups fill to maximum capacity of 16 and the overall numbers double, she said she is less concerned about the numbers than with the role the program plays for those who need it.
“I want us to be a vital service for the community,” she said.
Hopkins grew up on the island and returned because she knew Vashon had a need for addiction treatment for both adolescents and adults. She noted that King County conducted a health assessment of 27 areas in 2016, including Vashon. The findings, compiled in the King County City Health Profile, showed that for alcohol consumption, Vashon ranked third highest out of those 27 areas — a fact that underlines the need for on-island substance abuse treatment, she said.
Tom Walsten, a chemical dependency professional in recovery himself, runs the groups and said clients are extremely varied. Some come because of legal issues, while others come for self care because they realize they may have an issue with alcohol or drugs. While VYFS is legally mandated to cover some topics in the groups, he said they include a lot of variety, including art therapy and films from the renowned Hazelden Betty Ford centers, as well as the flexibility to address any urgent issues. He noted that some clients also attend AA meetings, and while they are helpful to many people, they are not the right fit for everyone.
“We like to say there are many paths to recovery,” he said.
People typically seek treatment at VYFS for a minimum of three months, Hopkins said, depending on the progress they make and what their goals are — and how long they want support.
Success is measured through people reaching their goals, Goertzel said, as well as when people reach sobriety or moderated sobriety.
Most clients in the program are covered through Medicaid, but others are covered through private insurance. There is also a sliding fee scale for people who do not have insurance.
“No one will be turned away,” Goertzel said.
VYFS previously offered services for people dealing with drug or alcohol addiction, but closed those services in 2014 because they were not sustainable and were draining funds from the agency.
Now, Goertzel said, the program is financially sound. The Medicaid payment structure has changed, ensuring that VYFS receives payments consistently. And there are three staff members, able to work with patients individually and in groups. VYFS has done little outreach about its addiction treatment services, and as it does more, Goertzel said she expects to see higher numbers of people seeking the services.
Group times are currently from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays and from 2 to 5 p.m. Wednesdays. With enough interest, evening groups could form, Goertzel said. Also, VYFS is open until 8 p.m. and people who could not attend the daytime groups could attend individual sessions in the evening. Looking ahead, Hopkins said she would like to develop groups for family support and relapse prevention.
“We really are targeting being responsive to the needs of the people who come to us,” Goertzel said. “That is the foundation of the work we are doing, helping people move from where they are to where they want to be.”