By Dave Russell
The front door of Meridian Behavioral Health in Sylva is locked for COVID-19 screening, but it is actually open. Wide open. The clinic welcomes new clients to take advantage of its array of services revolving around mental health issues.
“We encourage anyone to give us a call and get scheduled for an assessment,” said Rebecca Swanger, Jackson County director of Meridian. “We can provide any level of support for whatever stage of change a person or family is in.”
Meridian in February added a new weapon in the fight against opioids addiction, opening a clinic focusing on treatment using suboxone, a medication that helps treat dependence by reducing the withdrawal symptoms that can occur when opioids use is stopped or reduced.
The clinic is filling its roster with its current clients, but adding more as time goes on, Swanger said.
“Once we have more provider time, we’ll be really putting it out into the community,” she said. “Many of our folks that struggle with opiates started taking something because of an injury and bought their prescription legally, not because they were trying to get high. I think that misconception sets a lot of our community up to think ‘That will never be me.’”
But it could be anyone, she said.
“Addiction does not discriminate,” Swanger said. “It doesn’t care about your socioeconomic situation, gender or age. Addiction can happen for anybody.”
Medication is only one part of successful addiction treatment.
“We do a comprehensive assessment when people come to us to see everything that is impacting functioning – including family dynamics,” she said. “We surround that person with whatever supports they need.”
Patients at all stages of recovery – including those still using – are welcome to take part in many of the programs Meridian offers.
“Because our program is so limited right now, and the need is so great; we are being very intentional about focusing on our current folks who are in the action stage of change and ready to move forward,” She said. “The nature of a suboxone clinic means that there are other requirements to participate – such as being involved in other services or drug screens. If people aren’t ready for that level of commitment yet, it’s absolutely OK. They can still come be with us and take advantage of our other services until they are in that place.”
“Meridian is excited about expanding our suboxone services to Jackson County,” Psychiatric Clinic Manager Traci Henderson said. “We are in the developing phase and have provided a soft start in seeing new clients with hopes to continue to expand even more in the coming months. The opioid epidemic is far and wide, and we want to expand those services to provide more access to those that may be struggling with substance abuse. Suboxone access has been limited in our area, and we are excited to be able to help fill that gap.”
Meridian’s Recovery Education Center offers classes and programs tailored for folks seeking all levels of support.
“Somebody could attend one class once a week, or they could attend three or four a day five days a week,” Swanger said. “They can also have one-on-one support with a peer-support specialist supplemented by therapists, groups and medication management as well.”
Employment is a part of the strategy, which Meridian addresses via the state-funded Supported Employment program.
Many of the programs the nonprofit offers are not related around substance abuse, Swanger said.
For children they provide day treatment, intensive-in-home, outpatient therapy, in school counseling and family centered psychiatry.
The adult menu is long, but includes a Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Social Services assessments, medication management, psycho-social rehab, sexual abuse intervention, supported employment, community treatment and recovering support teams, jail program and DSS assessments.
Also new to the agency is a psychological testing program, one of two west of Asheville.
“We secured some grant funding for the materials,” she said. “It could be testing for ADHD in adults and children, IQ testing, adaptive functioning testing, anything that could help folks figure out what their barriers are. We hope to expand to autism testing in the future.”
Going virtual due to COVID-19 hampered the agency little, Swanger said.
For some programs such as the Substance Abuse Intensive Outpatient Program, folks in Jackson could get online instead of having to drive over Balsam to Meridian’s Haywood office, she said. A recent weekly lineup offers 14 online classes, such as Managing Panic and Anxiety, Resources for Resiliency, and Parenting with Love and Logic.
The office at 44 Bonnie Lane also hosts a primary care clinic – Sylva Community Health Center – where patients are seen for medical needs.
“Clients and family can walk in our doors and get both their medical and mental health needs met in one spot. It has been a really great way to partner with SCHC to continue to reduce barriers to folks in Jackson County.” Swanger said.
“We follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines,” she said. “We do temperature checks and ask screening questions at the door.”
Anyone interested can call 631-3973 or visit meridianbhs.org for more information.