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Helping troubled youth deal with addictions

By Staff | May 6, 2018

Liz Schavey (left), Crystal Smith (middle) and Erica Haugh specialize in helping adolescents beat addiction.

For young adults struggling with the temptation of drugs and alcohol, the UHD Adolescent Treatment Center of Winnebago may offer a ray of hope.

The treatment center itself was once located at the site of the old Winnebago hospital on 550 Cleveland Avenue. Since 2010, the center has been at its current location.

The adolescent treatment center is geared towards rehabilitation for chemical dependency and abuse. Licensed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services and the Minnesota Department of Health, the facility utilizes a residential program to provide treatment for men and women between the ages of 12 and 18 and hosts a maximum capacity of 24 young adults.

In order to assist adolescents in their recovery efforts, the center is staffed with a medical director, a registered nurse, licensed drug and alcohol counselors, and state licensed teachers. In addition, there are room checks every halfa.m. to ensure the safety of the adolescents in treatment.

As health unit coordinator Crystal Smith explains, patients come to the treatment center from a wide variety of backgrounds. While some wind up in the center as a result of a court order, others are voluntarily seeking treatment for their addictions.

Additionally, some of those who enroll in treatment arrive from within the state of Minnesota, whereas others come from neighboring states like South Dakota. Regardless of an individual’s circumstance, Smith says helping young people to make better life decisions is the most rewarding aspect of her job.

“Every kid is different, and they come into the program at different levels and stages of their lives,” Smith shares. “Their attitude is most likely different when they leave as opposed to when they are first coming in, and knowing you were a little part of their life as they made progress is exciting.”

Elizabeth Schavey, the unit supervisor at the Winnebago facility, explains one of her most fulfilling experiences occurs when someone who has completed their treatment calls back and updates the staff on their progress. Schavey recently heard back from a young adult who has remained sober for eight months.

“I think one of the things that I enjoy is when they call back and say how long they’ve been sober, that’s a cool thing to hear.” Schavey said. “Just hearing their success after they leave is very rewarding.”

Most adolescents at the treatment center will stay for a total of 30-45 days. In some cases, young adults may stay for as many as 90 days. Regardless of the length of time in treatment, those at the Winnebago facility will take part in a regimented schedule throughout the day and evening, all while usually remaining on the grounds of the treatment center.

Regular school activities begin at 8 a.m, and continue until noon. The two teachers on staff at the treatment center are contracted through the Southern Plains Educational Cooperative.

From 12:30 until 2 p.m., students then meet for a therapy group. During recreational time from 2 to 3 p.m., the adolescents are permitted to venture outside of the facility and explore fishing or hiking opportunities along the Blue Earth River.

Continuing the theme of group therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings held outside the facility from 7 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. also allows for socialization outside of the treatment center.

As part of the program within the area, young adults are encouraged to make a “sober contact” while attending these meetings. A sober contact generally consists of a non-family member of the same gender who is older than the adolescent, and not an employee of the treatment center. Smith sees this exercise as a valuable step towards bringing positive influences into the mix.

“By obtaining a contact outside of here that they can call for support, they can get some advice if they’re having a rough day,” Smith says. “A sober contact is usually somebody the patient can connect with on some level.”

Despite the best intentions of the staff, some who enter the treatment center reject their help. In cases such as this, Schavey says the best way to deal with objections from patients is to review their alternatives. By weighing the consequences of their actions, patients are more likely to see the benefits of enrolling in the treatment center.

“We can’t keep anybody here, so sometimes I just ask the question ‘what does it mean if you go,’ Schavey says. “They know if they don’t successfully complete treatment, sometimes that could mean a year in jail or a year in a juvenile detention center, so is walking out right now really the best choice?”

Meanwhile, licensed alcohol and drug counselor Erica Haugh says identifying the root of addiction helps to open lines of communication with the adolescents in treatment.

“Our main goal is to help them understand what addiction is, what it means to lead a sober life and what they need to do to change,” Haugh says.