When she opened the North Coast Medical Clinic last year, Wendy Hemsley said she had found a dearth of primary care providers in the region.
Noticing a similar lack of outpatient drug treatment options, Hemsley opened North Coast Recovery this spring in the same building as her clinic on 30th Street in Astoria’s Mill Pond neighborhood. She gathered health care and government partners Wednesday to officially cut the ribbon on the recovery center, but also to talk about the need for more services for those struggling with substance abuse.
North Coast Recovery is one of several outpatient treatment centers in the region.
“We’re basically the transitory step between a controlled inpatient environment and functioning in a world with drugs and alcohol,” Hemsley said.
The recovery center is staffed with substance abuse counselors and two medical addiction specialists Hemsley recruited from the Portland area.
When patients come in, counselors sit down with them to assess what level of treatment they need, said Sandy Ferguson, a chemical dependency counselor.
The recovery center offers varying levels of intensity to help patients transition from withdrawal to daily life, from 20 or more hours of structured programs a week and daily monitoring to one or two hours a week in meetings about how to maintain a sober lifestyle. Outpatient services can last up to a year, Hemsley said.
Part of the high rate of relapse among opioid addicts is the intense pain they feel during withdrawal. Hemsley’s medical addiction specialists are some of the few in the region who can provide medications such as Suboxone and Vivitrol, which can help reduce the pain and prevent relapse.
While providing drug treatment, the center also tries to identify the personal needs of patients, whether it’s housing, employment or mental health services, Ferguson said, referring patients to other local providers such as Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, the county’s mental health contractor.
One of Hemsley’s frustrations, felt by many private providers, is her inability to accept patients on the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s version of Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor. A community health assessment in 2014 estimated a third of Clatsop County residents are on the state plan. Many lack affordable local options for medical and substance abuse treatment.
“I would love to be able to accept OHP,” she said. “We have the infrastructure.”
Another sore spot for Hemsley, chronicled by The Daily Astorian, is the lack of detox beds for people in crisis. The closest option is Bridge to Pathways more than 60 miles away in St. Helens.
“If we could even have just a few beds, it would be a huge assistance,” she said.
Despite the gaps in service, Hemsley said, Astoria is a very recovery rich community, and providers of drug treatment work together.
“I just respect and appreciate anyone offering drug and alcohol treatment,” she said. “The demand far outweighs the resources we have.”