Substance abuse

Virginia Beach drug rehab center adapts to reopen doors – The Virginian-Pilot

Virginia Beach’s 24-hour detox and drug-rehabilitation center closed in November 2021 as it struggled to man the necessary shifts needed to care for those seeking help.

Now, the leaders of Pathways Center at Birdneck Circle maintain they have found a solution.

The center offered crisis stabilization for suicidal people and medical withdrawal programs for as many as 16 people at a time over most of a week on average. It had to reduce the number of people to eight during the pandemic and served 531 people in 2020, according to the city’s website.

Department of Human Service and Pathways leaders are hoping to reopen between July and September to offer intensive outpatient substance rehab to serve 40 to 50 people a day over a 10-week program with a necessary nine hours of programming a week, according to Shelby Giles, clinic services administrator for behavioral health, and Theresa Newman, program supervisor and licensed counselor at the city’s Department of Human Services.

Suicidal patients will now be stabilized elsewhere before coming to Pathways, Newman said, adding they also take in people from Virginia Beach’s drug court and the center will care for people regardless of whether they have insurance.

Giles and Newman said the effort to recruit and keep a full staff for 24-hour programming resembled the myth of Sisyphus — many new staff hires were followed by others opting to leave.

“We did get to one point where we were one nurse away, then clinicians started dropping out,” Giles said.

Before they closed, they had hired 22 people over several months, but it still wasn’t enough.

“So we recognized, we still have to service people, we’ve just got to find a different way of doing it,” Giles said.

The need for such services is dire. Progress made in 2017 by DHS staff with funding to reduce overdose deaths in Virginia Beach had also started to reverse as people sought sources of comfort during the pandemic and recession, according to Newman.

The center has played a pivotal role in the community since it opened, according to both Colin Stolle, Virginia Beach commonwealth’s attorney, and Kurt Hooks, CEO and licensed counselor at Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center.

“Addiction is one of the biggest problems we face in the criminal justice system,” Stolle said. “The two major problems are mental health and addiction and quite often they go hand in hand. And, you know, the criminal justice system is not equipped to deal with either of the largest issues we face on a day-to-day basis.”

Hooks said it can be intimidating for those with addictions to seek help and then find and trust someone to provide that help.

“Many of our community members that are suffering from chronic or acute mental health issues, substance abuse issues, or a combination thereof, are quite susceptible to kind of fall through the cracks,” Hooks said. “To have a program like Pathways reopen in a very effective manner is really going to help close some of those gaps that people can fall through.”

Stolle said the public understands how dangerous the opioid epidemic has become and sees the deaths caused by drugs such as fentanyl.

“And if we don’t have the ability as a community to try and address those issues, then we’re really failing our citizens,” Stolle said. “And that’s where Pathways and (the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services) really comes in.”

Stolle extolled the hard work Pathways and its staff does to help reduce deaths.

“I think they’re an impressive group of people,” he said.

Pathways detox, along with Sentara and Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center, was part of the commonwealth’s attorney’s office’s first-step program, in which those with an opioid abuse disorder and in danger could ask for help at any city police precinct and get treatment instead of potentially overdosing or getting a criminal charge, according to the office website. The first-step program is still active.

The new Pathways programming will start with day groups and then expand to evenings.

Newman said the new approach was first mapped by looking at what the community needed and then making sure the center could find a way to meet that need.

“So we felt if we couldn’t need the needs through a residential crisis (approach), we could definitely meet the need through through an intensive outpatient” approach, she said.

The new approach Pathways is taking reflects goals in the ‘Right Help Right Now’ three-year plan introduced by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who signed bills that make up the plan Wednesday, according to Hooks.

The new staff will be comprised of two nurses, about a dozen substance abuse disorder specialist clinicians and four peer support specialists. The center is waiting on a license that is expected soon so they can be up and running in the coming months, Giles and Newman said. Getting a van and drivers to make sure people are able to make it to the center and trying to establish housing funding for those seeking to break addiction are other short-term goals, they said.

Newman and Giles said there has been a lot of support from the Virginia Beach community and the city to get programming started back up at the center.

“We’re just very excited about this opportunity to switch and still serve this population because that’s what was most disconcerting to us — we knew they needed help and we weren’t able to do anything for that period of time,” Giles said.

Ian Munro, 757-447-4097, [email protected]

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