Butler County Commissioner Cindy Carpenter is on a crusade to get help for drug addicted pregnant women and has marshalled a large group of partners to help the women pull themselves out of their problem-plagued lives.
Carpenter tucked tissues into the upholstered chairs at the Sojourner facility that houses the residential drug treatment for women, preparing to tell four new moms, each cradling a newborn, about her new pilot program.
“Now I’m nervous,” said Kristan, one of the mothers, as she eyed Carpenter with the tissues.
Kristan, who had her son Treston three days earlier and asked for her last name not to be used for publication, Melody Thompson, Jordan McMullin and Leslie Simpson all learned they will be part of the program that includes not only residential treatment, but recovery housing, life skills training from SELF, help with getting a job from Job and Family Services and support system from a program called Nurturing Every Step Together (NEST), among other services.
The tears flowed freely, especially when Carpenter announced the recovery housing component of the pilot that will serve 16 pregnant moms at a time during the nine-month program.
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“This means everything, absolutely everything,” McMullin said. “That has been one of my very, very top concerns, was that I’m going to lose my children forever because I can’t get financially stable enough to provide for them, to provide a stable house. If I have that, it will give me time to get a job and be able to maintain a stable life. It is just amazing.”
McMullin, who has a felony record, said she can’t use her nursing degrees anymore, but she will certainly work to get back on her feet.
Carpenter first broached the subject during budget hearings with the judges. She wanted to, and now is diverting, $100,000 worth of unused drug court money — the expansion of Medicaid has provided a new funding stream for that court — for a program for addicted, pregnant jail inmates.
There have been 33 pregnant, drug-addicted inmates in the jail this year, and their prenatal care has cost the county $14,574. Butler County Jail Warden Dennis Adams said the prenatal care isn’t the end of the financial burden either.
“The cost of care for these females goes up even higher because we have reached out to the practices that are willing to take these women and the risk associated with that pregnancy. That drives up our medical costs,” Adams said. “The jail is paying for the hospitalization of the inmate, and the baby’s delivery and the baby’s care falls on the hospital; whether it’s Medicaid, Medicare or an indigent fund, I don’t know, so it’s kind of divided once the baby is born.”
Judge Craig Hedric said sometimes incarceration is the only answer.
“The last time I let someone out of jail who was pregnant, and I gave her a furlough, she went to the hospital, had the child and walked out of the back door and never came back,” Hedric said.
Judge Noah Powers said he gets four or five pregnant defendants appearing before him every year. He has had subsequent conversations with Carpenter about the pilot program, and he said he is excited to have another sentencing alternative.
“I would rather have the option of sending them somewhere where they’re going to get treatment than putting them in jail so they don’t do drugs. If they are going to get treatment, it’s going to be a lot better,” Powers said. “This is a wraparound program that’s going to provide them with neonatal services and the entire spectrum of services.”
Carpenter has expanded her idea over the past two months to include expectant mothers who have not been caught as well. She said the program will address all of the barriers these women face, not just the immediate drug addiction recovery side of things, but everything it will take to get them back on their feet and able to support their children, such as job training, transportation, day care and people to ensure the women stay on the right path after the nine months are up. The women will be in the residential treatment at Sojourner for six months and in recovery housing for three months.
“It meets the woman’s needs and teaches parenting. You have oversight, you have drug testing, we are going to add intensive life skills development,” Carpenter said. “So at the end of the nine months, the path to self sufficiency has already been built.”
Kristan said this is an unbelievable opportunity she plans to make the most of.
“When I work, I stay clean and everything else falls into place, so it’s really important to me to get that together,” she said. “I want to go to school, but I have to work at the same time. It’s unrealistic to think I can do one or the other. Talking it over with someone who can maybe guide me in the right direction seems really helpful; help me help myself, really.”
Scott Gehring, CEO of Sojourner Recovery Services in Hamilton, said the $100,000 is mainly for the services his facility provides, but SELF is also getting $72,000 from JFS for life skills services they will provide. The residential program will be handled at “The Hill” facility behind the Developmental District Board offices on Fair Avenue. The recovery housing will be located at facilities they are fully renovating next to St. Rafael’s. He said this is a first for the county.
“It really is a first to be able to bring this level of collaboration,” he said. “It really demonstrates the commitment from the county and the community partners to take the heroin epidemic seriously.”
Another integral part of the plan is SELF’s “Gettin’ Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World” that focuses on helping individuals pull themselves out of poverty. Jeffrey Diver said the women will have three sessions a week over eight weeks.
“Each partner is doing what it does best,” Diver said. “For example, SELF doesn’t do chemical abuse treatment or counseling. That’s not what we’re doing. We’ve been offering the Gettin’ Ahead program since 2009, and we’ve developed it into a highly effective program for helping individuals in poverty to leave poverty permanently.”
Another crucial cog in the program is the NEST program. Lauren Marsh, director of the Butler County Coalition for Safe, Healthy and Drug Free Communities, said they will have three faith advocates matched up with three moms in the pilot program to ensure they don’t fall off the wagon.
Their focus is on prevention and education, but they will also help with things like running out for diapers in the middle night, kind of like a mom or grandma, according to Carpenter. Marsh said each mom will have a personalized plan and they will keep the relationship going as long as they are needed.
“Every person’s need will be different,” she said. “That will be between the faith advocate and the mom in recovery. Her frequency of needing, how long she will want to meet with her faith advocate, what sorts of things they will do together, part of it is prevention education and supervision.”
Carpenter has been working with the moms and Kendra Hall, who runs the Perinatal Program at Sojourner, for two months, especially Simpson who has since “graduated” from the program. Simpson shared that she had kicked the habit in 2014, before her son Colton was born, and she was so terrified of a relapse she refused any medication when she delivered her son via Cesarean Section two months ago. She has put the commissioner and the director high atop a pedestal.
“Cindy you and Kendra are angels,” she said. “I’m telling you somebody tripped you, and you fell off a cloud, and you landed here. You guys are heaven-sent, you really are.”
There have been several groups throughout the county working to tackle the ever burgeoning heroin epidemic. Susan Lipnickey, chair of the The Butler County Opiate Abuse Task Force, said she is happy they are taking this huge step forward and not trying to reinvent the wheel in the process.
“It’s utilizing existing resources and putting them together in ways that probably haven’t been configured that way previously,” she said. “It’s not creating a new entity, it’s not finding new buildings, it’s utilizing things that already exist and are already in place and tapping into them.”