Monday, June 22, 2009

The road to recovery

Monument Street Counseling Center offers hope

Twenty-two-year-old Brittany O'Mara's goals are similar to those of her peers. "I want to finish school, get married and start a family," she says. But not long ago, her aspirations were as precarious as they were precious - Brittany suffered from a drug addiction.

Today Brittany is on the road to recovery, thanks to her determination to achieve her dreams and to the Monument Street Counseling Center, an affiliate of the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center located in Charlestown, MA. Established through a collaborative effort between Massachusetts General Hospital and the city of Boston, the Monument Street Counseling Center opened its doors in April 2008 with a mission to broaden mental health and substance abuse services in the community. Funding for the center was enabled by community commitments made as part of the Department of Public Health’s approval process for the Building for the Third Century.

Stories like Brittany's are not unfamiliar to residents of Charlestown. The close-knit, one-square-mile Boston neighborhood has been plagued by some of the city's highest rates of drug abuse.

More space for more patients

Previously, the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center offered substance abuse counseling services, but had only one specialized therapist. Now with a dedicated space and five more staff members - two additional clinical social workers, a resource specialist, a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist and an office assistant - more patients are able to receive the help they need.

Led by Lorenzo Lewis, MD, medical director, Rick Hall, LICSW, clinical director, and Peggy Carolan-Bolognese, administrative director, the center provides an array of outpatient counseling services for issues ranging from anxiety to domestic violence in addition to substance abuse therapy. The center offers comprehensive evaluation and individualized treatment planning, individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy and couples therapy, referrals for medication treatment and for medical services at the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center and other facilities.

Space for the center, located on the first floor of a building in the Bunker Hill housing development, was donated by the city. Its placement at the heart of the community has helped lessen the stigma surrounding mental health issues and substance abuse, and has increased the number of walk-in patients. "We opened a counseling center where a counseling center should be," says Hall.

The Monument Street Counseling Center is only one of several initiatives created to counter the area's high rates of substance abuse. In 2004 the MGH Charlestown HealthCare Center and the Center for Community Health Improvement partnered with the community to establish the Charlestown Substance Abuse Coalition. Three years later, in 2007, a $2 million gift from Mass General helped open the Charlestown Recovery House, a 25-bed facility for men in the early stages of recovery. The community has rallied around the issue, and gradually, rates of overdose and of related fatalities, once on the upswing, are on the decline.

For every failure there is success

Brittany is one of the success stories. Although she now lives in Peabody, she makes the time to drive to the counseling center twice a week. She meets once with Hall and once with Cally Woodard, the center's psychiatric clinical nurse specialist.

"Rick and Cally have really saved my life," Brittany says. "They always tell me I can call anytime I want, and they treat me like a normal person, not just another junkie." Even though the center staff have played a large role in her recovery, Brittany knows that they can't fix her problems. They can only help her help herself. "Every time we meet, Rick gives me something new to work on - a new step to take," she says.

And each step brings her closer to her goals. With the help of the Monument Street Counseling Center, instead of using drugs, Brittany is focusing on studying them as a pharmacy student at a local college. She's keeping a positive attitude but taking her recovery one day at a time. "For as many failures as there are, there are always successes," she says. "Just because you used drugs doesn't mean you'll always be like that. You can turn it around."

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