Treatment center will support healing on Vashon

We can become part of a regional solution to a drug crisis that is ravaging communities across the country.

The Seattle Indian Health Board’s decision to open an inpatient treatment center on Vashon gives us an opportunity to do something profound: It enables us to become part of a regional solution to a drug crisis that is ravaging communities across the country.

By welcoming this innovative agency to our island, we become part of a larger movement working to help people recover from trauma, rebuild their lives and rejoin their communities. It gives us an opportunity to be a place of healing at a time when healing is desperately needed.

But we welcome a treatment center to our shores not only out of a sense of duty or obligation. We also know the agency’s approach — premised on both the latest research on addiction treatment as well as traditional Indigenous medicine and culturally attuned care — will benefit Vashon, as well.

Addiction knows no boundaries. The destructive impact of drugs and alcoholism is one we also see on Vashon. The 92-bed center will focus on the needs of Indigenous people, but it will provide treatment to all people, including non-Indigenous islanders. It will serve as a beacon of hope about the power of recovery, strengthening the fabric of our community.

Leaders from the Indian Health Board recently came to Vashon to discuss plans for the center, and we were impressed by what we heard. The 45-day program will combine traditional Indian medicine with cutting-edge therapeutic programs, offering a powerful alternative to conventional treatment models.

Those in treatment will get practical needs met — dental care, medical care, housing support, employment and resume-writing support. Highly trained therapists will offer both individual and group therapy sessions. One wing will enable parents to be in the facility with up to two children, providing support to those who are parenting or pregnant — an urgent and largely unmet need in the recovery world.

Most impressive to us is the theory of care that the Indian Health Board will bring to this center. The agency sees those it serves as whole people — they call them “relatives,” not clients or patients—who need not only substance use treatment, but also spiritual and relational care. It recognizes that addiction is a “disease of despair” associated with rising loneliness and isolation and that kinship, connection, generosity and a spirit of wholeness are needed for people to heal.

The agency will offer practices grounded in Indigenous culture, including morning sunrise ceremonies, a sweat lodge, drum circles and language classes. Traditional healers from all over the world will lend their wisdom via virtual sessions.

This approach is a far cry from conventional substance use disorder treatment in the United States today, and it comes at a time when such care is critical. According to King County data, 318 people died from drugs or alcohol in 2013. Last year — a decade later — that number had jumped more than 300 percent. According to just-published data, 1,314 people in King County lost their lives in 2023 due to drug overdoses or alcohol poisoning, fentanyl and other opioids being the lead cause.

That death toll is far higher than the COVID deaths we experienced annually, even at the height of the pandemic. More people are dying every year from drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning than the coronavirus. It is disproportionately impacting people of color, Indigenous people and young people. Many have called the rise of opioid addictions one of the crises of our time.

We could choose to ignore a problem that is ripping families apart, leading to greater incarceration levels, triggering homelessness and more — or we can be part of a solution grounded in connection, wholeness and community. We opt for the latter.

We realize many mourn the loss of Vashon Community Care, and we do, too. It was a place with deep roots on Vashon that provided care to many of our aging relatives and friends. But its closure stemmed from economic forces far beyond anyone’s control. According to Bellevue-based Transforming Age, the most recent owner of VCC, it closed the facility in 2021 due to decreased demand for assisted-living services, staffing shortages and “a critical budget shortfall.”

The center then sat empty for more than a year before the Indian Health Board announced its purchase. With its arrival to Vashon, we have a new opportunity: We can continue the traditions that made VCC a vibrant part of our community, using our love, labor, money and commitment to support an agency centered on right relationship, wholeness and health.

Just as VCC cared for people, this new facility will also provide care, helping people reclaim their lives. We want to be part of the success of this next iteration of love. We welcome the Seattle Indian Health Board’s treatment center to Vashon and invite you to welcome them, too.

Joseph Bogaard has lived on Vashon since 1996; he works to restore abundant salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest. Leslie Brown is a writer and editor; she formerly served as the editor of the Beachcomber. Yve Susskind, an islander since 1996, operates Praxis Associates, helping organizations understand their impact and plan their strategy.

The following people have signed onto this commentary: Jessica Anakar, Stephanie Barbee, Ronly Blau and Joe Panzetta, Amy Bogaard, Walter and Maggie Carr, Tracy Chait, Patrick Christie, Derek Churchill and Wendy Finkleman, James Cottrell, Sarah Day, Cathleen deSmet, Andra and Steve DeVoght, Paul Dixon, Diane Emerson, Leslie Enzian, Jeff Few, Chip Giller and Jenny Sorenson, Suzanne Greenberg, Debra Gussin, Roxy Hathaway, Bruce and Pam Haulman, Jason Johnson, Executive Director Vashon HouseHold, Jeni Johnson, Executive Director Vashon Youth and Family Services, Jason Jones, Kevin Jones, Kevin Joyce, Donna Klemka, Katie Konrad, Yvonne Kuperberg, Julia Lakey, Olive Lefferson, Jen Lindsay, Jessica Lisovksy, Molly Matter, Susan McCabe, Luke McQuillan, Shelley Means and Tom Dean, Maria Metler, Amy Morrison, Bill Moyer, Rob Peterson and Joanne Jewell, Bianca Perla and Rusty Knowler, Billy Plauche and Amanda Carr, Margaret Roncone, Allison Halstead Reid, James H Rickard III, Zoe Rothchild and Wade Kramer, Peter Rubin, Emily Scott, Eliyahu and Risa Stahl, Janie Star, Terry Sullivan, Co-chair, V-MCC Affordable Housing Committee, Kathryn True and John Koriath, Laurie and Bob Tucker, Nancy Scott Wienker, and the Vashon Island Unitarian Universalists board (Kim Kambak, Ann Lewis, Kate O’Hare, Kirk Barker, George Butler, Mary DeMange, and Rev. Victoria Poling).