By Safiya Charles Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Meet the two compassionate women who are leading people out of addiction and into recovery.
The man was as patient as he could be in his condition. He had followed the steps he was told to take by those in charge. Now, all he could do was wait.
Slowly, but surely, his name would meet the top of that list. Then, he could have a bed in a safe place where they could help him.
His addiction seized him first.
"He was going through a lot," Amy Anderson said. The behavioral health professional of more than 20 years is the CEO of the Reclamation Center of Alabama, an outpatient substance abuse treatment facility serving greater Montgomery and portions of neighboring counties.
After completing an assessment to determine how and where the man's addiction could best be treated, the center had tried to get him into a detox facility. There just wasn't any available space.
"He didn't quite make it," Anderson said, the words weighing heavy on her tongue.
She's certain he's not alone.
With limited treatment facilities available in state, and the bulk located in more urban counties like Montgomery, Jefferson and Mobile, Anderson believes that more substance abuse and mental health care providers are sorely needed; as well as an examination of more innovative ways to provide that care, lest more vulnerable people slip through the cracks.
It's why the North Carolina native, now living in Georgia, decided to open a treatment facility in Alabama. When the center opened in 2018, Anderson had been traveling between Jonesboro and Montgomery for the better half of it. Three years prior, she had enlisted the help of Amy Perry, a counselor with more than two decades of experience. She became its executive director.
They join the ranks of more than 5.4 million women of color in the U.S. who have trained their focus on entrepreneurship. Among these proprietors black women are leading the trend. In 2017, they represented 19% of all women owned businesses, -- up more than 600% over a 20-year span -- though they still accounted for just 7% of small business ownership in the country.
Anderson took a risk that seems to be paying off. Together, the two have developed a program that attempts to "meet people where they are" -- both literally and figuratively.
If clients aren't comfortable coming into the center, Perry or a clinician will go to them; whether it's their home or that of a friend or relative. If they can't leave work to attend a court-ordered meeting, she'll get in her car and drive to their job if they'll allow it. The two are currently developing a more discreet program for people who have prominent community positions -- like a public official or religious leader reluctant to seek treatment for fear of the potential fallout.
Eliminating the barriers that stand between addiction and treatment is a founding principle of the organization. And with so many reasons for clients to avoid confronting their substance abuse issues, the women ask: Why add another?
"Think about it. You have to go see a stranger and tell them your life story, about how you made a couple of choices that were not favorable and now you're stuck," said Perry.
"[People] are more apt to be open when they feel comfortable."
Visiting someone's home also reveals information about their character, environment and social habits -- all valuable details when it comes to determining what form of treatment may work best for them, Anderson explained.
To them, the importance of comfort extends far beyond the meeting place. It's in the way their staff speaks with clients, how they treat them. Many who receive their services are used to being dealt with like a docket number, or worse, a screw up, the women said. When people walk through the doors they're greeted warmly, by Mr. and Ms., offered a beverage and a snack or comforted by a smile.
"Amy puts so much love on people," Anderson said, "and responsibility too," she is quick to add.
"It's a very warm environment. I wanted to make sure it felt like home."
In her vision those who need help, receive it; regardless of where they live or work, what their cultural background is or how much money they make.
It's why she and Perry came up with the idea of creating a co-pay waiver program for clients who are required to complete court-mandated treatment. The monthly payments toward the fines and fees that landed them in court can amount to hundreds each month.
"I don't believe in turning my back on people," Perry said. "I believe in extending a hand."
The program allows these clients to waive their monthly co-pay at the center if they can provide a current receipt of payment from the court or a probation officer.
"Oftentimes people who are court-referred have to decide between paying their parole officer his payment or their court referral officer her payment, and keeping the telephone on," Perry said.
All while expected to remain on the path to recovery. For the poor, this only serves to complicate their journey to sobriety, potentially landing them in jail if they can't pay the required fees or complete their court-mandated treatment.
And some who come to the center need much more than to get clean.
Counseling for their addictions, as well as the loved ones impacted by them, basic life skills and job preparation are some of the many resources they provide. They also offer typical treatment services like crisis intervention and diagnostic testing.
"I believe in working with the entire person," said Perry, "I don't believe in cherry-picking.
"If you come to me and your concern is crack and all I'm going to do is address crack, when I know you need to be working on your GED, I know that you need some assistance with filling out a job application -- I would be remiss," the director said.
When Anderson filed to get the center certified in 2015, she said there were fewer substance abuse providers than there were counties in the state; yet the bureaucratic process took three years.
She and her husband Orlando Anderson, who owns an IT company in Georgia and serves as the center's CFO, funded the venture with their own capital until the end of last year. Although the center received a contract that gave them access to state funds last January, -- backdated to October 2018, the start of the state's fiscal year -- it took time to build up their clientele and for a period their expenses surpassed their revenue. In March, they were back in black. But by no means coasting.
Anderson said that at the time she didn't fully understand how businesses like hers should be structured. Most others were nonprofits, while the center was for-profit.
"I did the research on the necessity of the service, but the structure of the business missed the mark," she said. "My advice would be to survey the landscape harder. Try to build a rapport with knowledgeable people" working in the field.
She credits this and the center's community-based approach to administering care for the time it took to get the operation off the ground and hopes the state will continue to expand how treatment services are provided in the future.
In North Carolina and Georgia where Anderson also worked in behavioral health, home and out-of-office visits to substance abuse clients were so typical she took them for granted. In Alabama, she said she met stubborn resistance from a system that was used to operating in a fixed way.