BOSTON – On Monday, Governor Charlie Baker signed into law H.4009, An Act advancing contraceptive coverage and economic security in our state, or the ACCESS Bill which prevents insurance providers from denying women access to their preferred birth control method because of an inability to afford it.

The legislation was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler (Worcester – D), Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, and House Chairman John Scibak.

“We didn’t ever imagine that the Trump Administration and Congress would be so brazen in their attacks on women’s access to health care,” said Chandler.  “If Washington is going to be hostile towards programs that are working, we need to be prepared. When given a chance to make these programs work even better – to ensure that they’re entrenched and enforced and even more accessible – we’re going to seize that opportunity to advance women’s health.”

This law is the first of its kind in Massachusetts, enacted in direct response to President Donald Trump’s healthcare policy changes. The new law will be effective immediately, but consumers can expect to see changes reflected in their health plans as soon as six months from today.

Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, I want to start by saying I am a survivor.  I survived the worst nightmare, and guess what? I picked myself up off the floor and made a decision to move forward and get serious with my health and fitness.
I had always worked out and thought I was eating pretty good overall,  but I wanted to dive in and step up my game, because at this point, my health meant everything to me.   I began to see fitness in a whole different light and I realized it truly is a mindset.  When we make up our minds and commit to getting healthy or fit, doesn’t it take everything inside of you to really focus on what you are doing?
Working with hundreds of clients over the last several years has taught me that we are all very similar in so many ways.   We have the same thoughts about our bodies, the same cravings for foods, and even the same ups and downs in life that leads us from being super motivated, to becoming super unmotivated. The challenges we face day to day when it comes to health, eating clean, and trying to get in a workout are constant for most people.  We all have good intentions, but when the push comes to shove, what is the final decision you make?  Do you get yourself to the gym after a long day at work, or do you go home because you are too tired?  Do you cave in and eat the pizza and cookies  that the office brings in, or do you bring your own clean lunch and a healthy snack?  This all comes down to our minds and I know one thing for sure: we are much stronger than we think.  When we set ourselves up for success and really plan out our days ahead, we are more successful at everything, aren’t we?  The challenges will always be there, but when you have your mind set up that nothing is going to stop you, I believe nothing will stop you.
I hear people say all the time how tired they feel and need more energy, but  what are you doing to make a change to gain this energy?  You have heard this before, “if there is a will, there is a way”. Once you get it in your head that you want to make better choices, or change the way you eat, then you have to step up to the plate and this all starts with your mind.
Here are a few tips to try:
#1 – And this is the most important: you have to mentally prepare yourself ahead of time, commit to your goal, and plan a start date.
#2 – Give yourself enough time to mentally prepare so you can really  set yourself up for success.
#3 – If you do not have a gym membership, go visit a few then choose the best fit because not all gyms are the same.
Kelley’s Bootcamp is a great fit for all women looking for group fitness with women of all ages and fitness levels.
Research and plan your healthy meals and take your grocery list to the store for the week ahead. There are also many meal prep companies that can prepare your foods and ship them to you.  This makes life easier if you have the funds to do it.
Don’t be afraid to hire a coach for help in the beginning.  That is what we are here for.
Ask a friend to join you on this journey because you will need to lean on each other when times get tough.
Realize ahead that this is not going to be a cake walk.  There are always highs and lows when it comes to starting a healthy and fit lifestyle.  The highs will carry you through, but the lows can mess with your head and sometimes trick your mind into wanting to quit.  Try to read positive and motivating quotes daily to keep your head in the game.  My big piece of advice is, on the days you do not want to workout or eat clean, do it anyways.  Force yourself, because when the day is over, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and be so proud of yourself that you will want to thank me, which I would love for you to reach out.
If you constantly feed your mind positive thoughts, you will become more positive.  If you constantly judge yourself in a negative way, you will never reach your full potential and see yourself the way you should.  Positivity breeds positivity, right?  Don’t be so judgmental about your body, focus on your goal of becoming the best you while you can.  It all comes down to how badly do you want to feel better than you do today?  You are the only one to answer this question.  So the choice is yours alone.  What is it going to be?
Please reach out to me for any help in these areas.  My passion is to help you get on this healthy lifestyle train.  We all need someone for accountability and  to keep us on track, lets start today.

The best defense to the opioid epidemic may be a good offense – engaging Worcester’s citizens, particularly its youth, in worthwhile activities, sports, programs, and treatment, before they can be drawn to using dangerous substances. As a Board Member of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, a member of the Children’s League, and an Adjunct Faculty for the Trauma Center, I often get asked to weigh in on this important topic. I think it’s critical that more attention be shifted to positive engagement of youth through citywide programming, as a proactive measure to stopping abuse before it starts.

Sean Rose/Photo: Matt Wright

A different approach is needed to treating this terrible epidemic, which had reached approximately 140 deaths as of 2016. This epidemic cuts across all socioeconomic statuses, but impacts impoverished youth (who make up nearly 50% of Worcester Public School students) disproportionately. Therefore, prevention must reach across the city both geographically and socioeconomically. Keeping youth engaged in and motivated by local activities, programs, and services, treats the problem before it begins.

While the City of Worcester has some strong programming for youth in place already, there are a number of gaps and always room for growth. Teachers are asked to do more and more each year, with less and less resources. Middle schools need competitive sports teams, which are free or offer scholarships. There needs to be more affordable afterschool programs, continued access to parks and recreational programs in our parks, free or affordable art and music activities, and other avenues for developing positive identities and growth. This has the important benefit of putting youth in the care of positive adult role models, who can mentor youth, intervene early, and connect youth with the services they need.

From a mental health perspective, substance abuse can be best viewed as a symptom of an underlying problem. Right now, we are mainly treating this symptom on the surface, rather than at its source. It is absolutely critical that the citizens of Worcester, and its policymakers, continue to support funding for these types of preventative, engagement-based programs.

Last week, Worcester received a grant from the Baker Administration that will guide people towards care, rather than jail, if they meet certain requirements. This is great news for the city, however, we need to view programming and funding for youth engagement as just as important to treating this pervasive and troubling problem. When elected, I am eager to champion the agenda of not only developing community services that treat the aftermath of this epidemic, but also to advocate for prevention programs that engage youth district and citywide.

BOSTON- Members of the Massachusetts state legislature took steps last week to ensure women statewide will have comprehensive access to contraceptive services without restriction or co-payment.

Sponsors of the Contraceptive ACCESS Act – Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler, Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, and House Chairman John Scibak – testified last Tuesday before the Joint Committee on Financial Services in support of the bill, which prevents insurance providers from denying women access to their preferred birth control method because of an inability to afford it.

“A woman’s choice in contraceptive coverage is between a woman and her healthcare provider,” Chandler said. “Given the risk the current administration poses to women’s health, it is imperative that we pass this legislation to protect all women in the Commonwealth – no matter their financial ability.”

Attorney General Maura Healey, the Massachusetts ACLU, Mass. Planned Parenthood Action Fund, NARAL Massachusetts, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans also testified in favor of the legislation, which requires health insurance plans offered in the state cover a variety of contraceptive services.

“It is vitally important that all women be provided with opportunities and access when it comes to their reproductive health,” Haddad said. “These are personal decisions and we should protect their right to make them.”

WORCESTER- The Worcester Police Department announced the Buyer Diversion Treatment Alternative (BDTA), a pilot program which seeks to reduce the number of arrests for low level substance misuse offenses by diverting low-level drug-buyers away from the criminal justice system and into treatment programs.

City Manager Edward Augustus/Photo: Madison Friend

The BDTA was announced on Thursday, Sept. 28 in conjunction with a new partnership between the WPD, the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, and the Executive Office of Public Safety. It will be funded by a $99,000 award from the Baker-Polito Administration. The funding will support housing and treatment for addicts, emphasizing recovery options over incarceration.

“Each day they’re on patrol, police officers see firsthand the destruction wrought by the opioid crisis,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Security Dan Bennett. “This program is unique because it gives the police a mechanism to redirect drug buyers toward treatment so that they can break the cycle of addiction.”

Officials like Lt. Governor Karyn Polito hope the program’s compassionate approach will further eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction and allow law enforcement to focus their resources on the sellers and distributors of illicit substances rather than the addicts.

“The tragic, human toll of the opioid crisis challenges us all to develop new and innovative ways to approach law enforcement and substance misuse issues,” said Polito. “Offering those suffering from addiction an alternative path to treatment and recovery will we hope deliver individuals a chance to change their own lives as the criminal justice system focuses on more serious crimes in our communities.”

District Attorney Joseph D. Early, Jr. praised the WPD for the innovative way it has managed the opioid epidemic, setting up prescription drop-off boxes and training even civilian government employees to administer Naloxone to those suffering from an overdose. The number of opioid-related deaths in Worcester rose steadily from 29 in 2012 to 76 in 2015, but dropped to 56 in 2016. The number of opioid-related deaths has declined 5% statewide in the first six months of 2017.

District Attorney Joe Early/Photo: Madison Friend

Early emphasized that addiction is a law enforcement and public health issue both, and that the best way to manage the crisis is by partnering with other government and community agencies.

“We’re doing this and it’s a different way to do it,” said Early. “It’s good government. [Addiction] rewires the brain. It’s not a choice. It’s a disease.”

“If we can perfect this model here in Worcester, it will allow us then to take this to other gateway cities here in the Commonwealth and have another tool in the toolkit to combat opioid addiction,” said Polito.

The grant will allow the WPD to hire a case coordinator to work with the DA’s office, as well as a case manager to act as a liaison between law enforcement and the treatment centers to which eligible individuals will be referred.

The agencies have partnered with Spectrum Health Systems, specifically the Everyday Miracles Peer Recovery Support Center in Worcester, to assure there will be treatment options available to every eligible offender that wishes to take advantage of the program.

 

WORCESTER – We often hear the phrase, “it takes a village” – a community effort to bring about a desired change or to face a difficult challenge.  

The City of Worcester is taking those words to heart.

On the morning of Thursday, Sept. 7, several courageous city residents and forward thinking medical students from Worcester’s own University of Massachusetts Medical School gathered to build on collaborations across disciplines to improve the health of our community.

In a crowded lecture room, a panel of impacted Worcester residents — led by The East Side of Addiction authors licensed social worker Dr. Jim DiReda,  alcohol and drug counselor Jack Maroney, and Worcester Public Schools Safety Director Rob Pezzella — exchanged questions and answers with a roomful of aspiring physicians

The purpose of the exchange was to increase the knowledge base and understanding from the consumer’s perspective on the “Opioid Epidemic” — an issue that has recently been declared an emergency Public Health Crisis.

The panel was invited to share their personal histories with substance use disorders and to respond to questions that focused on motivation for stopping to use, misconceptions that the public [as well as health care provider] tend to have about addiction, experiences with the healthcare system, and what future providers should know about addiction, recovery, and treatment.

With DiReda, Maroney and Pezzella facilitating the discussion, the panel — which consisted of five women and five men — talked openly of their struggles with substance use.

One of the panelists, State Representative James J. O’Day — a long time vocal proponent for progressive social change — talked about “our kids being at great risk when using drugs and alcohol” and said he was “happy to be here and happy to able to share a little piece of my story.”  

O’Day went on to say, “It is something, quite frankly, that I am incredibly proud of. The life that I have today wouldn’t be what it is if I was keeping [my former substance abuse] anonymous.”

The learning objectives of the evening’s panel discussion were to identify the stigma associated with addiction and behaviors that perpetuate this stigma, understand some of the challenges associated with addiction and substance use and recognize the prevalence of addiction in all socioeconomic and racial groups.

Lily, a second-year medical student, said, “Most of the audience was comprised of first year medical students. For them to be able to hear the strength, honesty, and courage in the stories of these funny, smart, kind people in the first few months of their medical training is an amazing step towards destigmatizing the healthcare providers view of addiction.”

The overall goal of the Substance Use Disorder elective that is being spearheaded by student leaders under faculty supervision is to increase awareness and understanding of substance use disorders, with emphasis on the impact of substance use on the patient, the patient’s family and friends, and the community.

Kelly, a second-year med student and one of the student leaders that hosted the discussion said, “The patient panel offered a diverse perspective on addiction and recovery. Hearing from those in long-term recovery and those who are still in the beginning of their recovery journey was powerful. It showed how this disease is lifelong and therefore, staying active in recovery is the key to successful treatment. I would recommend a session like this one to all healthcare professionals, as it very clearly showed the human component of substance use disorder.”

Dr. DiReda went on to say, “Addiction is a sickness that affects the mind, body, and spirit of those afflicted, wreaking havoc on those around it, including family, friends, relatives, neighbors, and communities. It is going to take a community-wide effort to change it.”  

Stigma, low self-esteem, child custody issues, mental illness, prostitution, sexual assault and human trafficking were all topics that the panel fearlessly and openly discussed. The desperateness of these revelations was not lost on the future physicians who were clearly moved by the forthrightness of the panel and asked questions to increase their understanding.

In summarizing the evening, Hannah, a second-year medical student leader, said, “The patient panel gives students a name, and a face, and a story behind the term ‘substance use disorder.’ This is both humbling and eye-opening and it allows students to encounter an addict as a human being, rather than seeing them as ‘an addict.’  I think this is the most important thing.

Worcester is a community that is facing a very difficult challenge — the impact of drug abuse and addiction.  

The daily news is full of stories of drug busts, robberies, physical violence against innocent victims, scams and a variety of other crimes fueled by addiction.  

We have come to learn that no one individual doctor, judge, or treatment professional alone is powerful enough to change this phenomenon.  It is going to take the work of many to accomplish what needs to be done, and we must form a unified front, working together with the goal of reducing and/or eliminating this deadly malady from our community.  

Doing this will not be easy, but it is possible.

At least that is our belief, which is why we are focusing our energy and efforts on developing relationships with stakeholders in our community to join forces to reverse this deadly trend.  

From every first responder to an overdose call, to the medical staff who treat them, to the providers in detoxes and rehabs, all the way through to outpatient facilities, and doctor’s offices.  Everyone is impacted in some fashion, and/or knows someone who abuses or is addicted to drugs and alcohol.  

We must come together as a community to harness the knowledge and strength needed to face down this deadly foe.

WORCESTER – Between 2012 to 2016, there were more than 250 opioid related overdose deaths in the city of Worcester, according to a report from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Department of Public Health.

Beginning Wednesday, Sept. 13, three friends from Worcester’s Shrewsbury Street area – Dr. James Direda, Jack Maroney, and Robert Pezzella – will co-author a column at ThisWeekinWorcester.com [TWIW] exploring the opioid epidemic in Worcester and informing readers about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and the resources that can be found in Worcester for addiction recovery.

“Locally, regionally and nationally there’s a lot of information out there. Some people have accurate information, others don’t. We are going to write this column to help clarify what’s going on out there,” Pezzella said in an interview on Aug. 28.

Pezzella, who works in the Worcester Public Schools as the system’s School Safety Liaison, said, “We’re all East Side kids. And you can never take the neighborhood out of us, as they say. A lot of our experiences together have been from our neighborhood.”

Additionally, the authors will be sharing their recovery stories and the struggles they each dealt with their own personal addiction.

Growing up together around Shrewsbury Street, Direda, Maroney and Pezzella were involved in drug use and down the road had to deal with the consequences that came with their personal addictions. Even after they all witnessed their friends pass away from addiction at an early age, they still found themselves deep in the thick of addiction.

Their addiction resulted in each of them going their own separate ways for many years.

Nearly 20 years later, the trio would meet again through a 12-Step recovery program. Since then, for more than 30 years, they’ve worked tirelessly to inform and educate people in the Worcester area on addiction and recovery.

“Since that reconvening, all of us have stayed true dear friends through the recovery process. Now here we are 30 years later still in recovery, and we’re all still involved in a 12-step program helping others, but in our professional experience as well,” Pezzella said.

Over the course of the next few weeks,  the three authors will also take a close look at how the City of Worcester is handling the opioid problem.

“First and foremost, I give the city credit because they’ve been at the table and have focused on this issue for a long, long time. They have always been grappling with this issue and somehow trying to figure it out,” said Maroney, the CEO and President of Creative Addiction & Recovery Estates, Inc — an organization with the mission of offering opportunities for those suffering with substance use disorders.

Maroney added, “I think the more we come together and the more we join hands and work collabo

Cover of The East Side of Addiction

ratively, we can move the ball down field around this issue. It’s when we splinter off and either duplicate or replicate work being done, or we’re pulling in different directions, I would love to see us come together and develop a unified front to really make some strides against this.”

Maroney and Direda are co-authors of the book, The East Side of Addiction — a narrative of their friendship and experiences growing up in Worcester, their struggles with addiction and the long road to their personal recovery. The other co-author of the book, Henry Grosse, passed away last November.

“Through my own personal addiction and recovery – 20 years of addiction and 32 years of recovering from addiction – I have been kicking around this issue for a very long time. Central Massachusetts is where I’m from, where my roots are and all of my connections, and where I’ve lived for the past 32 years since I stopped using drugs and alcohol,” Direda, an assistant professor of social work at Anna Maria College in Paxton, said.

Direda also does private practice consulting around substance abuse treatment and education.

“Each job that I took subsequent to that was still in the field of addiction treatment and education. I’ve been working in this field for the last 32 years in a variety of different capacities including detox programs, inpatient and outpatient programs, jails, and schools trying to educate people on addiction and recovery issues,” Direda said.

The TWIW column will run every other Wednesday and will cover several areas of substance abuse and recovery topics.

“We have a long, long history. We grew up together. We have 50 plus years of history coming out of the same neighborhood and community, struggling with the same issues in our own personal addictions, and then in long time recovery over the past 30 or so years,” Direda said. “I try to use that experience and that history in the teaching that I do.”

Maroney added, “We’re going to share what we’ve learned, what we know and what we’ve experienced in our own struggles.”

WORCESTER – On Friday, Sept. 8, the City of Worcester, the American Red Cross, and the United Way will be hosting a hurricane relief event to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey.

The event — Worcester Cares — will take place on the Worcester Common. Donations of money and travel-size toiletries will be collected at the event.

Worcester Cares will feature live music, food, a beer tent, farmers market and a live broadcast from WTAG’s Jordan Levy Show.

 WHAT: Worcester Cares Hurricane Harvey event

WHERE: Worcester Common, behind City Hall, 455 Main St., Worcester

WHEN: Noon until 9 p.m., Friday, Sept. 8

 Donations will be collected on site, to go to disaster relief efforts, through either the United Way or the American Red Cross. Donors can bring cash, checks or credit cards to the event.

If you cannot attend the event, but would still like to donate, please visit unitedwaycm.org [designate your donation for Worcester Cares] or redcross.org/worcestercares-pub.

Donations are tax deductible, and can be specified for either Hurricane Harvey relief, or general disaster relief efforts.

 Volunteers will also accept travel-size toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, and shampoo only, please. No other forms of donations are able to be accepted.

 Parking will be free downtown during the event at all street parking meters and at the new Worcester Common Garage, at the corner of Foster and Commercial streets.

A traffic advisory has been issued by the Worcester Police Department and can be seen here.

WORCESTER – On Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Washburn House – an alcohol and drug addiction recovery center located on Main Street in Worcester’s Webster Square area – will launch their new withdrawal management program aimed at providing clients with an opportunity to detox before enrolling in Washburn House’s clinically managed inpatient program.

Just up the road, at the former Anna Maria Nursing Home, Washburn House owner Timothy Rassias has plans to open an extended care program for Washburn House recovery patients sometime this coming winter.

According to Washburn House CEO Neil Gaer, in an interview on Friday, Sept.1, mailers will be going out to Main South residents in the near future describing the services Washburn House has to offer.

“Where it stands right now is that we are moving forward. We are getting out into the neighborhood to explain our services and we are putting together an advisory board of community members that can help us with community feedback,” Gaer said.

According to Gaer, the Washburn House is seeking five to six community members for the board and will not have elected officials serving on the board “at this time.”

“We want it to be a true representation of the neighborhood,” Gaer said.

Backlash From Elected Officials and Neighborhood

Some of Worcester’s Main South residents and two elected officials are calling for Rassias to put a halt to those plans immediately.

On Thursday, Aug. 17, a neighborhood meeting was held at Christ the Rock Fellowship Church to answer residents’ questions and to serve as a platform to express any concerns they had. The meeting was organized by District 5 City Councilor Gary Rosen and, following the meeting, Rosen asked Rassias to shelve his plans on opening the Washburn House extension at Anna Maria.

In an email to ThisWeekinWorcester on Friday, Sept. 1, Councilor Rosen said, “Last week, I told Tim Rassias’ attorney that State Rep. Kate Campanale and I would have to serve as members of any community advisory council that is started. I understood that he was agreeable to that.”

“I also understood that they planned to send out a mailing to some abutters and area residents providing them with some more information on the facility. I do not know if that was done,” Rosen added.

Rosen said Rassias and his attorney have both stated that Rassias won’t attend any further public meetings.

According to Elizabeth Armitage, the Marketing and Business Development Manager at the Washburn House, the program at Anna Maria will be an extended care program.

In an interview last week, Armitage said, “Clients will go through detox and will stay in the Washburn House for two to three weeks in the [inpatient] program. If they’re motivated and they want to keep doing this and stay engaged in our program, they will be moved up to Anna Maria.”

“They’ll live there, but they will be coming to Washburn House everyday to access services,” Armitage added.

Washburn House clients are working to recover from drug and alcohol addictions

Armitage said that the length of stay for a client at Anna Maria hasn’t yet been determined because the program isn’t fully developed, but the early estimate is six to eight weeks.

In a notice from Councilor Rosen that was published in a column in The Worcester Independent Leader by Councilor-At-Large Michael T. Gaffney, Rosen spoke critically of the opening of the Anna Maria extension and further stated his want to be a member of the advisory board.

“…in response to the fears and concerns of dozens of upset area residents and business owners, I asked the owner of Washburn House to shelve his plans to open a second substance abuse treatment center at this facility,” Rosen wrote.

He added, “[Rassias’] attorney suggested that I provide input into the membership of this 7-member advisory council. I shall do that. However, two members on that council must necessarily be State Representative Campanale and myself. We must not and will not agree to stop representing and advocating for the people who elected us to serve their community, OUR community.”

In his column, Gaffney called for the removal of the program from the Main South neighborhood and wrote, “Let’s be honest, addiction treatment is an industry. Worse, it is an industry with an extremely poor track record of success that destroys neighborhoods and cities.

“I’m tired of the addiction industry’s failures and excuses. I’m tired [of] walking on eggshells about this topic knowing that any discussion of real solutions and the real effect on neighborhoods will be met by zealous addiction treatment profiteers screaming their bumper sticker slogans,” he added.

Gaer hopes that the people in the neighborhood will come to Washburn House to see the work they do and form their own opinion on the benefits of the recovery center.

“It’s an extension of what we’re doing at Washburn House. We would invite anyone that hasn’t seen it to come visit Washburn House. I’d be happy to give anyone a tour to come see what we’re about and what we do and I think it would help to continue to reduce the stigma,” Gaer said.

Armitage said, “I’m sure some people are looking at us differently because we are a for-profit and not a non-profit organization. But if people could see what we’re doing and that we are trying to provide these services the right way. Every person on the staff cares so much about what we are doing and care so much about the people we are caring for. I wish people could see that.”

“It’s ridiculous how crazy [the opioid epidemic] has gotten,” Armitage said. “There are people shouting ‘Not in our backyard,’ but it’s happening right here in everyone’s backyard in Worcester,” Armitage added.

“Our goal is to be a great neighbor and to treat people that are local to the Worcester community. It’s going to be an intensive extended care program at Anna Maria and when our clients have completed their stay at Anna Maria, they will go back into the Worcester community and hopefully they will be successful,” Gaer said.

Detox Program Launches Today

Even with all the noise surrounding Anna Maria, the Washburn House still managed to open a withdrawal management program today with 16 beds.

Armitage said, ‘The withdrawal management program is where people come into detox and get all of the substances out of their system. It’s not a pleasant experience usually.  Our clients can’t have drugs in their system to be admitted into the [inpatient] program. They are tested before they come in. They will start in the detox program if they do.”

Although Gaer isn’t sure how many of the 16 beds will be filled at the start of the program, he said the detox program will allow their clients an even greater scope of treatment.  

The entrance to the Washburn House at 1183 Main Street in Worcester

 “It’s exciting for us that we can medically stabilize people from alcohol and/or opiates. We get to expand into longer term treatment,” Gaer said.

“Today, we could fill [the detox program], but because the program is still in its infancy, we want to make sure that these people get the right attention and that we get everything right in the program,” Armitage said.

The process of entering Washburn House under the influence of drugs or alcohol begins with meeting a team of nurses and a clinician, then spending five to seven days in the detox program before spending up to 30 days in the inpatient program.

According to Armitage, there are currently 13 clients in the inpatient program which can hold a total of 32 clients at a time.

There are more than 50 employees working at the Washburn House and Armitage believes that their staff-to-client ratio benefits the client and will play a large role is the client’s road to recovery.

“Our motto is ‘Getting Better Together,’ and that’s what we really wanted to create – a sense of togetherness and family. It’s not that I’m a staff member, and the patient is just a client. We’re all in this together, you’re not alone,” Armitage said.

Gaer said, “There’s too many people in harm’s way right now with this disease. If we can save a life, and help a mom or a dad sleep better at night knowing their kid is safe, then that’s our obligation.”

ThisWeekinWorcester.com’s Person of the Week

WORCESTER – There aren’t many 24-year-olds that find themselves battling at the front line of an addiction epidemic, in the throes of a neighborhood confrontation, and at the cusp of what looks to be an encouraging start to a promising career.

But, Elizabeth Armitage isn’t like many 24-year-olds. In fact, the way “Liz” carries herself is that of a professional many more years her senior.

Armitage, a graduate of Notre Dame Academy in Worcester and University of Massachusetts- Dartmouth, is the Marketing and Business Development Manager at the Washburn House – an addiction recovery center located on Main Street in Worcester’s Webster Square area.

“I am the marketing and business development person at the Washburn House, but I don’t really like that term. It’s not just about being a business. It’s about being part of the community,” Armitage said in an interview on Tuesday, Aug. 29.

Liz Armitage Stands in Front of Entrance at Washburn House/ Matthew Wright

Armitage, now of Worcester, was born and raised in Hubbardston. She comes from a family full of healthcare workers. Armitage’s mother, Patty, has worked at UMass Medical Center as a registered nurse for the past 31 years.  Her brother, Marty, works as a Network Development Executive for NaviHealth in Newton.

Her father, Martin, is retired after working 32 years for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts between the Department of Corrections and the Department of Veterans’ Services.

Armitage previously worked for Spectrum Health Systems for two years in their business and development office and as a project manager in Spectrum’s IT department after being hired right out of college.

In April, Armitage heard that Washburn House was set to open this summer. She applied and interviewed with CEO Neil Gaer and Washburn House owner Timothy Rassias.

“Right away it seemed like a perfect fit for me. They built the whole program from the ground up and I was able to get in early and really have a say in what was going on,” Armitage said.

Liz Armitage/photo by Matthew Wright

“I liked Liz right away because she brought a youthful perspective to the business — which is a very different perspective in this business,” said Gaer in an interview on Friday, Sept. 1.

“Liz is very energetic and her heart is in the right place in this job. She understands what we do from the recovery perspective — beyond the perspective of the business,” Gaer added.

When asked if he or Rassias hesitated putting a 24-year-old in such an important position, Gaer scoffed at the notion.

“You would never know [Liz is only 24-years-old]. She’s very mature for her age.

She’s had some great input in everything we do,” Gaer said.

The Washburn House opened in July — two months after Armitage was hired — and, according to Armitage, the first few months were spent with a small staff brainstorming what kind of program they thought would work best for recovering addicts in Worcester.

Armitage said, “When I first started there, there were only four of us employed and we sat around a table asking what we knew about the industry. It was great to be able to have my ideas heard and contribute in that way.”

To date, there are more than 50 employees working at the Washburn House and, according to Armitage, 15 more people will be hired before the end of the year.

According to Gaer, since the early stages of the program, Armitage has been influential in implementing new ways to reach Washburn House clients and, in particular, has developed a web portal that allows clients to access important information and to keep in contact with clinicians and program managers at Washburn House.

“Liz is very influential in the technology aspect of the program. We’re really working towards integrating technology into the things we’re doing here — including building patient portfolios and creating a system to track patient outcomes. Liz has really been great with those things and our website development, and [search engine] optimization,” Gaer said.

The web portal program — which will launch by the end of the year and is currently still unnamed — will give each client a Chromebook laptop with limited internet access and will download an app on their smartphone following their discharge from the program.

“It’s essentially going to be like college,” Armitage said. “They’ll have their laptop and their case manager and clinician will send them their homework for the night through this portal. They’ll have study hall where they can get their homework done and the next day they will be able to present what they are working on.”

“We’re trying to think outside the box. It keeps people engaged with their recovery and with us. Everyday we will text out – ‘How’re you feeling today?’ and our clients will respond with a smile face or a frown face. If it’s a frown face, it will trigger our system at the Washburn House and we will contact the client to see what’s wrong and if we can help in any way,” Armitage said.

A Living Area at Washburn House/Matthew Wright

According to Armitage, a friend of hers overdosed and died just after college and a short time before Armitage started working at Spectrum – a tragedy that she believes really pushed her into the health and human services field.

“I remind myself that it could have been me if I hadn’t made some right decisions in my life. It could have been any of my other friends. I have family members that have been affected by it. This is a disease that doesn’t discriminate.” Armitage said.

When asked what more can be done to bring about awareness of the opioid epidemic in Worcester, Armitage said, “Everyone just needs to get involved. I try to get involved in any way I can. The City of Worcester does a great job. Everyone is coming around and realizing that this is something that really needs to be paid attention to.”

“What’s great about this profession is that we are really like a family. Even though I’m with Washburn House, and someone else may be doing similar work with another organization, it’s not a competition. It’s ‘let’s work together, let’s spread the word about what we are doing and let’s figure out how we can all help one another,” Armitage added.

The first graduate of the Washburn House completed the program last month. Six months from now, Armitage sees the program with many graduates and at capacity.

“I see it full, unfortunately. But I see all of our programming in place. We are doing some really progressive programs,” Armitage said.

She added, “It’s not so much about trying to fill our beds. It’s more about what are the needs of this specific person’s health. In that way, I feel good about what we do and what I do. I have no clinical or medical background where I can help people in that way, but if I can help someone get into treatment or help a family with a family member, that means a lot to me.”

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