GREAT FALLS — While recovery centers have suffered individual impacts due to coronavirus shutdowns - such as financial hardships and protocol changes - both Seeking Recovery LLC and Gateway Community Services in Great Falls saw an increase in patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gateway Community Services executive director Bob Widgorski said the number of patients is atypical for this time of year, since July isn’t typically a busy month. “We’re full and we get more people everyday coming through the door...we’re seeing more people now than we would in a regular July or June,” Widgorski said.
He attributes the 18 new patients per week to rising rates of alcohol use and addiction during coronavirus closures. “Everybody was locked at home and mental health issues, addiction issues, abuse issues [were[ going sky high,” Widgorski said.
Fortunately, the patients seen at Gateway Community Services are often those who are stable enough to cope with those types of unforeseen circumstances. “The ones that we get are at a certain level of stability where they can come to treatment every day,” Widgorski said.
However, as the center shifted to telehealth methods of care, many patients began missing their appointments - a financial cost to the center and a physical cost to themselves. “We’re strictly a fee for service. So if somebody shows up and we provide the service, we bill insurance...When covid hit our no show rate went to in some aspects 50 percent. So that means we were getting paid 50 percent of what we’re used to but we still have all the same costs,” Widgorski said.
Since phase 2, more patients have resumed their in-person services, allowing operations to resume normally for the most part.
A new recovery center in Great Falls, Seeking Recovery LLC, managed to keep business running normally throughout all phases. Licensed Addictions Counselor JoAnn Malone recognized that coronavirus could trigger addicts and chose to keep her doors open so her patients could continue to receive in-person support.
“Our goal is not to shut down, to keep that face-to-face going, practicing precautions and protocols like we need to, but to never close the doors,” Malone said.
Like Widgorski, Malone saw a rise in recovery and managed to make it through phase 1 without losing a single patient. “There’s been an influx of people walking in off the street,” Malone said.
She attributes this influx to a loss of control induced by coronavirus. “As addicts in general, we need to feel like we have control over our environment..A lot of people have not only drug addiction but mental illness. So that isolation really affects them. It also gives them the opportunity - if there’s no accountability - to go ahead and use,” Malone said.
Seeking Recovery, LLC is located at 1 Fifth Street North.
Gateway Community Services has two locationsin Great Falls: 26 Fourth Street North, and 319 First Avenue North (Drop-In Center)