Serenity House applies for detox center grant

Plans for the central Kenai Peninsula’s first medical detox facility are underway.

Over the last several years, opioid addiction on the Kenai Peninsula and in Alaska in general has become a significant public health issue. Last May, the community coalition Change 4 the Kenai brought it to broader public attention with a series of highly attended town halls on the issue. Although Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna operates a residential drug treatment facility called Serenity House and several individuals have opened up sober living homes in the last year, there is still no dedicated facility where people can go to safely detox from drug use.

Coordinators from Serenity House have applied for a grant through the state to fund a detox facility. Shari Conner, the intake coordinator for Serenity House and also works with Change 4 the Kenai, said the grant isn’t settled yet.

“We’re really hopeful,” she said. “We had a lot of support letters, and we’re hopeful.”

She presented an update on the grant to the Kenai
Peninsula Re-entry Coalition, a group that focuses on helping prison inmates make the transition from release to life outside, at the group’s meeting Tuesday. The members agreed to sign a letter from the coalition supporting Serenity House’s effort.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Healthcare Task Force also recognized a need for a detox facility in its recommendations. The task force, which met for more than a year to discuss how to improve the peninsula’s health care delivery system and prepare for upcoming health care reforms, reached a set of recommendations in October, ranging from better aligning the administrations of the two borough-owned hospitals to a general need for better mental health coverage.

One of the subcommittees on the task force was specifically targeted at substance abuse and mental health needs. Task force member Blaine Gilman, who chaired the subcommittee, backed the idea for a detox center. In a September Healthcare Task Force meeting, he said he’d talked with several medical organizations in the area and thought there would be enough resources to pull together a public detox center.

The final recommendations state that the borough administration in the future should “explore the feasibility” of supporting such a center.

“While direct delivery of medical care is outside the scope of KPB authority, the task force recommends that the KPB assembly and administration explore facilitating and aiding with obtaining the funding for the creation of a detox facility on the peninsula,” the recommendations state. “The task fore recognizes that substance abuse and mental health are significant public health issues in the community, and understands that failure to address these issues leads to increase costs to the community, both through the healthcare and criminal justice systems.”

One of the requirements was that the applicant be providing a specific level of substance abuse treatment care already, which Serenity House does, Conner said.

The detox facility would not be housed at Serenity House’s facility but in another space close to Central Peninsula Hospital’s campus in downtown Soldotna, allowing for people to access care easily, she said. The emergency room currently takes patients who are detoxing from drugs, which takes up space in the department that slows down care for other patients.

Serenity House applied for the grant but has receive support from other medical providers in the community and is still working on getting additional support. Even if the project isn’t funded, the coordinators still plan to look at whether it is feasible, she said.

“We looked at the data, and there’s no way to fill this need without just starting to do it,” she said. “The hospital is not really equipped to do it. Detoxing in a hospital just isn’t really appropriate.”

Part of the grant would be to provide education and access to other services to make sure people can get out of the cycle of addiction and detox, she said. The coordinators should find out whether they received the grant by the end of January, she said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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