While the outbreak of COVID-19 has presented a wealth of challenges across the globe, the impacts have been particularly devastating for people with substance use disorders. Johann Harri once said, “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” Meanwhile, much of 2020 was spent “socially distancing” and many recovery support services and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous were cancelled, restricted, or shifted to virtual platforms.
Recovery residences, which provide safe and stable living environments for people seeking recovery from substance use disorder, continue to face ever-evolving challenges from COVID-19. In mid-March, the West Virginia Alliance of Recovery Residences (WVARR) began hosting weekly open calls for recovery residence operators and staff to discuss the challenges they were experiencing and to develop solutions to overcome them. Earlier in the year, barriers included limited access to COVID-19 testing, personal protective equipment, food, and cleaning supplies. At a time when the demand for services was increasing, many residences were forced to halt admissions while others limited admissions to individuals coming from supervised settings like corrections or treatment facilities. When surveyed in April, 60% of recovery residence operators reported that between 65% and 100% of their residents had lost employment due to COVID-19.
Recovery residences largely depend on resident program fees to sustain the day-to-day operations of their programs, and many experienced significant financial hardships throughout the year as a result of these factors. With the help of the Benedum Foundation, WVARR developed a COVID-19 Relief Fund to alleviate some of these immediate financial challenges. Eight recovery residences across the state were awarded minigrants of $5,625 each to cover costs of food, cleaning supplies, utilities, and rent for program participants. The recipient organizations reported that 242 individual residents were served with this funding.
Since mid-year, we have seen significant improvements in access to COVID-19 testing, food, and supplies, but the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the state have continued to increase. While recovery residence operators are doing their best to ensure residents and staff stay safe, at least six West Virginia recovery residences have reported having COVID-positive residents in the last two months. Many residences have also reported a significant decrease in new resident applications, which is especially concerning.
WVARR continues to host monthly open calls for West Virginia recovery residence operators and staff on the first Friday of each month at 1:30 pm. For more information on these calls, please email email@example.com. Although COVID delayed our plans for moving forward with the certification process, we were able to hire and train two new staff members who will be overseeing all certification applications and activities. We released our new website over the summer, which contains a whole page dedicated to COVID-19 resources, outlines the entire certification process, offers supportive resources for new and existing recovery residences, and provides a way for current residents to file complaints about their recovery residence experience. We also put together this Certification Preparation Packet which contains everything needed to prepare for and apply for WVARR Certification. Despite the delays, we are very pleased to congratulate the Mercer County Fellowship Home in Bluefield and Rea of Hope, Inc. in Charleston for becoming West Virginia’s first certified recovery residences! We commend both agencies for their exceptional reviews and the heartfelt work they do to provide safe, high quality recovery housing for West Virginians with substance use disorders.
The National Alliance of Recovery Residences (NARR) has also taken an active role throughout the last year, publishing this list of resources and best-practice guidelines for recovery residences, developing COVID-19 Standard Guidelines for Recovery Residences, and hosting a monthly COVID-19 Learning Community on the second Wednesday of each month from 3:30-5:00 pm. You can view notes and recordings from NARR’s COVID-19 Learning Community here or click here to register. NARR also hosts a monthly open call for the national recovery residence community on the first Friday of each month at 11:00 am. You can register for NARR’s Open Call here.