COVID-19 posing unique challenges for addiction treatment

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BISMARCK, N.D. - Just months after opening a new drug and alcohol addiction treatment center in Bismarck, Heartview Foundation is faced with a dilemma as experts are urging people to segregate.

Residents, staff and patients waiting for life-changing medication are congregated behind these walls.

Social distancing recommendations have thrown a wrench in the daily operations at Heartview in Bismarck and Cando. Directors face the difficult decision of which is healthier for their recovering patients: isolation in quarantine or community support?

Since 1964, Heartview has helped over 30,000 patients and families deal with addiction through a hands-on, live-in approach.

"If we're not here, these people that are struggling with their addiction will disintegrate in their own circumstances and end up in our ERs and our Walk-In Clinics," said Heartview Executive Director Kurt Snyder.

New patients are constantly moving in and out of residential treatment beds, dining and living together. What was meant as a space to foster health and personal growth has to be treated as a potential breeding ground for COVID-19.

Director's say incorporating health recommendations is a priority, but it's also the opposite of what addiction patients need.

"People who struggle with addictions are isolated. They are cut off from family and friends. They're in an extreme state of loneliness and despair. So, part of our recovery, part of the treatment that we do is to help them to reconnect," Snyder said.

Residents are no longer allowed visitors or free time outside.

More out-patients are allowed to take home prescriptions with proper permission.

Despite the precautions, one challenge remains.

"How do we effectively support people and provide connectedness in a situation where we're all asked to stand six feet apart and stay at home?" Snyder said.

A piece of the solution comes in the form of increased telehealth services. These video-conference-style check ups allow patients and providers to feel close while miles apart.

Snyder says rather than lacking morale, the patients at Heartview have expressed gratitude that a place like this is still open and welcoming them.