NH recovery homes face rising demand amid diminished capacity

  • A copy of Alcoholics Anonymous is seen on a table in The Launch building at Riverbank House in Laconia on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Granite State News Collaborative
Published: 5/28/2020 6:27:50 PM

Kristine Paquette recalls about a month ago receiving a call from one of her former residents at The Homestead Inn Recovery Residence in Boscawen. The man was in fear he was going to relapse.

“He was petrified [of getting sick with COVID-19],” said Paquette, a nurse. She picked up the man herself and drove him to get help. “I think that there is so much fear that people are staying at home, drinking.”

The story of the man Paquette drove to safety is common within the recovery community during the pandemic, according to Dr. Patrick Ho, a psychiatric expert from Dartmouth-Hitchcock. He spoke during a May 13 webinar with state health experts.

“Many people that need help right now are afraid to get it,” he said.

Recovery residences are in rising demand during the coronavirus pandemic, as unemployment rates are rising every week that the pandemic continues.

According to Paquette, The Homestead Inn, which she owns, has reduced by half the number of men living there to ensure proper social distancing. For many, it went from having one roommate to living alone at the home that usually houses about 15 men.

The reduction in residents is causing a financial strain Paquette cannot afford to keep up with without financial help. She is currently losing “$8,000 a month,” but is hoping the $4,000 to $6,000 she is expecting to receive monthly from the State Opioid Response (SOR) Grant will help keep the operation afloat. There has been no additional funding to help with the challenges Homestead has faced due to the pandemic. The opioid grant payments are behind schedule, she said, as she received the last payment in February, and the grant is due to expire in September.

“It would be great to know if they are going to continue, or to help in some way,” she said. “The guys [in the residence] pay their own way, insurance doesn’t cover it.”

Paquette said 50% of men living at the Homestead Inn now are unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with around 122,570 unemployed in the state, according to New Hampshire Employment Security, substance abuse rates are likely to rise as well, according to a University of New Hampshire Carsey School of Public Policy study by Shannon Monnat.

Since recovery homes are able to house only half the number of residents as usual, due to social distancing, Kim Boch, the executive director of The New Hampshire Coalition of Recovery Residences (NHORR), is worried about having enough space for the number of people who are expected to look for help in the fall, if the pandemic and trends continue.

“If we lose more [people out of fear of receiving help],” Boch said, “we lose people that are trying to be in long-term recovery and they will go back to the environment that they have come from and readmission will be more effective.”

Eighty-five percent of the 420 people who live in NHCORR residences across the state are unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Boch.

Looking ahead, as the weather gets colder, more people check themselves in for help at recovery residences, according to Paquette. She added even in a “normal” year, New Hampshire residences don’t “have enough beds.”

Boch said during the pandemic, NHCORR is trying to open more recovery residences across the state, despite the challenges. NHCORR has improvised by doing digital tours with the use of cell phones and checking fire alarms through video chatting.

Austin McNeal Brown, a social worker from Syracuse University, predicted some recovery houses will be “wiped out,” from the pandemic, but some recovery programs, such as RICARES in Rhode Island, will succeed due to how easy they were able to “transition to digital programs.”

“People in early recovery or seeking recovery may be missing the most critical part of recovery due to the currency crisis: organized, regular, face-to-face, bi-directional social support mechanisms,” Brown said. “We do not know how well yet these folks are faring, though digital recovery supports have skyrocketed in recent weeks. Some organizations are reporting up to 70,000 distinct log-ins per week.”

Brown suggested for the recovery community as a whole, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will come in waves.

“The first is the obvious health hazards, and hazards of isolation,” he said. “The second wave will be the enduring economic issues, chronic unemployment, lack of healthcare insurance, increase in homelessless, foreclosures, and evictions. The third wave will involve mental health as the impacts of the first two waves take their toll, with the increasing SUD [substance use disorder] and MH [mental health] crisis such as PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder], depression, suicide and the general impact of violence from abusive homes and relationships.”

At the Homestead Inn, residents are required to follow the “12-step” program that includes attending Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) or Narcotic Anonymous (NA) meetings. This has caused some improvisation as attendees are unable to go to in-person meetings due to social distancing.

During “rogue meetings,” as Paquette likes to call them, group members will go on a hike or participate in an outside activity, but some of her residents need extra support.

“If someone is really struggling and really needs to go to a meeting [AA], we screen them [for COVID] and if they pass those, and have no symptoms, then we feel fine and we would let 1-2 people come to the meeting,” she said. “But it’s so important because if someone needs a meeting, Zoom [video conference meetings aren’t] going to help – they need people and they need a connection.”

 

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


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