Liitfik Wellness Center moves forward
Norton Sound Health Corporation is making progress to build the planned Liitfik Wellness Center.
The Wellness Center — pilings have been pounded in already— will be build across the street from the Norton Sound Regional Hospital.
According to Liitfik director Marie Nelson they are hoping for construction, move-in, and grand opening in 2020.
The center aims to address high substance abuse in the region with comprehensive outpatient treatment and support which will provide “a wrap-around” approach to sobriety.
The Cultural Committee, made up of Elders from throughout the region, got together and said “We need something through the hospital and Behavioral Health Services. We need something that is planned and proven.” They were seeing people taken to the hospital emergency room and recognized more needed to be done.
“The program we’re using is Matrix, which was developed for substance use,” said Nelson.
Alcohol use is by a wide margin the biggest substance abuse problem “It encourages AA and the Twelve Steps, as well as faith-based support.”
There are also varied sober support groups, which will be involved. “We’re trying to make it as culturally specific as possible with facilitators who are Alaska Native with some Elders coming in and participating in the group sessions.” Groups will deal with anger management, trauma and even problem solving and decision making skills. “Those skills erode through long periods of alcohol abuse,” said Nelson.
As the center will be dealing with patients from throughout the region there will be sober housing on site for those who’ve come into Nome for treatment. The treatment, however, is strictly outpatient. Currently, without the completed center, patients must go to Anchorage or even the Lower 48. Because of this the Cultural Committee requested a better facility ten years ago.
Counseling and therapy is provided in the villages. If the numbers get to big or if there’s a crime committed the patients travel to Nome. In some cases, Kawerak will help find housing or patients might stay with relatives in Nome.
And sometimes the Nome Community Center helps out. “So it is for Nome and it’s also for the entire region,” said Nelson. “And we’re not waiting until the center is built. We’re trying get the services and the systems and the case management as we ramp up. We’re not waiting.”
Nelson estimates they are treating about two hundred patients a year. They have started providing services at Anvil Mountain Correctional Facility with two Behavioral Health Services technicians and there is also one at Seaside.
“There is social support where they do abstinence activities together,” she said. “And so the village based counselor will have these groups and will facilitate them going out. We also encourage faith-based support. And if there’s nothing to do we say ‘Go help an Elder. Go help and do something for an Elder.’ This is part of the ongoing sobriety. We find things, healthy activities that they can do. And social support helps them to find that.”
Chronic alcoholics are usually derailed from the healthy and wholesome activities which would help them fight alcohol abuse. “Because when they became chronic alcoholics they stopped doing those things. Their mind tells them ‘that won’t work.’ But once they’re out there with the sun and the wind they go ‘I feel good!’ But someone needs to take them by the hand and tell them how to do that again. And that’s part of the life skills decision making courses that we plan to offer.”
“I think if they see hope from people who have quit,” said Nelson. They might be frustrated with the life of an alcoholic and meeting one in recovery can get them into a frame of mind to quit drinking.
“Things are going to change because we’re providing services that help patients stay sober and help them get skills to do productive things,” said Nelson. They have space to get patients through treatment. “Matrix treatment is very good,” she said. “But what happens when they go back to the village, or what happens when they go back to the same environment? We don’t have that ongoing help and that’s going to be the next step. That’s why there are group wrap around services and that’s why we’re doing partnering with community organizations.”
Nelson speaks of the importance of a warm hand-off when the patient has completed treatment. “Not everybody goes to AA. Some go to churches or do community work. We want each person to get support so they can remain sober for five, ten, twenty years.” Some in recovery might go back to school and get a degree, others might change careers or enter an entirely new career. “But they need to be with someone who will encourage that growth. And that’s what we’re going to strive for. Right now there are communities doing things but a more comprehensive approach is what we’re hoping for. And the Liitfik was what the Cultural Committee proposed all for that. Tribal healers will be available in the center. Right now they come to substance abuse groups to provide that outside link. We’re going to have tribal healers in the new center to help with this process.”
“The Cultural Committee spearheaded this from the beginning and they’ve been our guiding voice and face and it’s their wisdom that got this started off,” said Nelson.