Children's Home leads fight against national drug epidemic


Substance abuse and drug-related crimes continue to plague cities across the U.S., and sadly our region is no exception. In fact, Greater Cincinnati’s location on the north-south interstate pipeline makes it a national epicenter for the current crisis.
 
But a growing body of evidence suggests that collaborative action from local, state and national agencies can help communities provide individual treatment and bring an end to the epidemic.
 
The 134-year-old Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky (CHNK) is one agency leading that charge in our region, offering one-of-a-kind residential treatment services that tackle the root causes and deadly consequences of addiction. Meanwhile, CHNK has forged vital partnerships and secured state and federal funding in recent years to help expand treatment access and maintain ongoing, supported recovery for the region.

 
New millennium redefines youth services
 
Addiction research is vast and complicated, but one thing is clear: The current crisis disproportionately affects young people.
 
According to experts at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, the number of reported heroin overdoses in Northern Kentucky has tripled since 2011, with 36 percent of cases occurring in individuals age 16-25. Additional reports from the Kentucky Medical Examiners Office state that in 2013 Kenton, Boone and Campbell counties were respectively ranked third, fourth and fifth in the state for heroin overdoses.
 
These alarming statistics are a sign of the times that also signify a major shift in focus for the Children’s Home, which was founded in 1882 as a resource for orphaned children and those affected by other socioeconomic factors.
 
At its 25-acre Devou Park campus, CHNK operates two 14-person residential treatment cottages, a therapeutic day school and recreational facilities for youth ages seven to 18. At a given time, CHNK staffs up to eight residential treatment specialists and one cottage manager providing treatment for at-risk youth around the clock, 365 days per year. Since 2012, CHNK has served 444 individuals with substance-use disorders.
 
The Children’s Home also maintains treatment facilities in Burlington and downtown Covington.
 
Dr. Steven Durkee, CHNK's Clinical Director of Substance Use Disorder Services, remembers a time when state and federal funding was reserved for adults with addiction issues and local families had to travel 100 miles to treatment centers that placed little emphasis on family interaction and therapy, both vital components for addiction recovery.
 
In 2012, Durkee set out to change that model with help from CHNK CEO and fellow adolescent behavioral health expert Rick Wurth.
 
“We don’t yell or scream, we don’t do ‘takedowns,’” Durkee explains of the residential treatment program that he and Wurth created from the ground up. “We do a lot of affirmations, and the kids are encouraged to express themselves through journaling and other activities that they plan entirely themselves. We also make sure families play a big role in providing support. Everyone is on board to help these kids recover and lead productive lives.”
 
Durkee cites conventional recovery wisdom that says if you can keep an adolescent in treatment for 90 days their chances of managing long-term sobriety increase significantly. The average stay at CHNK is currently 150 days, a success Durkee attributes to solid relationships with area hospitals and other outpatient treatment facilities that allow for easy transfer of patient records and other vital information.
 
“We work closely with our community partners and we make a great team,” he says. “Finding an organization like ours that shares a vision with the community and with its board and investors — that’s a rare thing.”

 
Cross-sector collaboration key to regional recovery
 
Wurth agrees that it will take that extraordinary level of teamwork to overcome Northern Kentucky’s current substance-use challenges.
 
Children's Home CEO Rick Wurth“Children’s Home continuously strives to build partnerships with the purpose of improving our community’s wellbeing,” he says. “These partnerships include healthcare providers, law enforcement, governmental agencies and behavioral healthcare entities at both the local and national levels.”
 
One example, Wurth says, is the agency’s partnership with Skyward, which allows CHNK to more quickly and easily forge bonds and identify opportunities for family and individual treatment that have shown positive results. CHNK’s efforts to elevate community health also tie in with Skyward’s overarching vision and delivery of the myNKY regional plan.
 
Elsewhere locally, the Children’s Home works closely with groups like the Northern Kentucky Health Department, Agency for Substance Abuse Policy and Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, relying on those relationships to gain access to new funding opportunities from state, federal, private and business community sources.
 
Wurth says the need for private support can’t be overstated.
 
“Over the last four years, CHNK has raised over $9 million via private donor and foundation support,” he explains. “What this indicates is that Northern Kentucky and the Greater Cincinnati region will support institutions that demonstrate a consistent return on investment, improve lives, and fulfill the triple aim of healthcare. Northern Kentucky has confidence that CHNK is a competent and compassionate organization that is mission-driven.”

 
State funding provides major boost for CHNK services
 
Earlier this year, the state attorney general’s office awarded CHNK with $450,000 in proceeds from a recent court settlement between the Commonwealth and a major pharmaceutical company. Those funds will be combined with a previous $1.5 million award to allow CHNK to invest in human resources, evidence-based programs and facilities and operational cost demands.
 
“Additionally, these funds enable agencies like CHNK to work with families and clients who are experiencing financial difficulties,” Wurth says. “The Children’s Home is committed to providing access to services, noting financial constraints of certain clients.”
 
One such client is 15-year-old Audrey, who successfully completed CHNK’s residential treatment program earlier this year after having been in and out of hospitals, jails and rehabilitation centers — 19 in total — over the last five years.
 
“The program at CHNK is different than the other places I’ve been,” Audrey said in a recent interview. “Most places, therapy is shoved down your throat. At CHNK, we have a choice to everything we do, but our therapists always motivate us to choose the right thing. They show us not to be hopeless of our future because they let us know it’s not too late. And that’s the best thing anybody can do to help someone who has already given up on themselves.”
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