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May 15, 2012

‘Life or death’

Drug treatment programs in Dalton, Rome receive funding for another year

Kerrie fought back tears as she described the impact the Women’s Outreach Center in Rome has had on her and other women battling substance abuse.

“I’m so thankful for this program. When I came here, I was sick. We were both sick,” she said, referring to her son.

Kerrie, whose last name is not being used to protect her privacy, said her son was born with a heart condition. He has had two open-heart surgeries and may have to have a third.

“Now, I’ll be able to take care of my son ... sober. This wasn’t just life or death for me. It was life or death for him,” she said.

The Women’s Outreach Center offers residential and outpatient treatment targeted at women. It is run by Highland Rivers, which offers mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities services in 11 Georgia counties, including Whitfield and Murray. The agency’s executive offices are in Dalton.

Last December, state officials informed Highland Rivers that federal funding, which comes through the Temporary Assistance to Families in Need (TANF) program, had not been renewed. The Women’s Outreach Center and the New Hope Women’s Center, a similar program Highland Rivers runs in Dalton, would have to close their doors at the end of December. Just a couple of days later, state officials came back and said they would continue to fund the programs though the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2012.

Patients at the two programs joined with others from across the state, writing letters to the representatives, visiting the Capitol in Atlanta to press their case, and urging their friends, relatives and churches to join them.

The result? The 2013 budget, which the General Assembly passed earlier this year, contains funding for the programs for another year.

Highland Rivers Program Manager Ansley Silvers said many of the women feared the program would be cut, but after they found the state would pick up the funding that fear turned to joy.

“They realized that they were important, that people cared about them. They played a big part in keeping this going, and they realized that people had listened to them,” Silvers said.

The women in the program and Highland Rivers officials met Monday in Rome with some of the legislators who helped secure funding for the program to thank them.

State Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, serves as chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, and Highland Rivers officials said his support was key in getting funding.

England said he and other lawmakers realize the importance of drug and alcohol abuse programs.

“So many people make one bad choice and follow that path all their life. But if you can give them an opportunity to take that choice back, some of them will take it and head in a different direction,” he said.

State Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, said she could see the value of the program in the many children at the center.

“It’s clear that you are all good mothers and want to do what you can to keep getting better,” she said.

Highland Rivers officials said the Women’s Outreach Center is one of the few treatment programs that tries to keep women with their children.

Data provided by Highland Rivers show that so far this year 250 women with 419 children have passed through the outpatient programs in Rome and Dalton, and an additional 139 women with 70 children have been through the residential program in Rome.

It costs $5.84 a day to serve the patients in the outpatient program, and $10.11 a day to serve those in the residential program. By comparison, incarceration costs $40 to $50 a day and foster care for the children would cost $15 per day.

Highland Rivers reports that 79 percent of those who complete the outpatient program get a job prior to completing the program and 71 percent of residential patients have a job when they leave. In addition, 19 babies were born to women in the programs this year and all were born drug free.

Silvers said the Rome program will continue largely as it is, but there will be some changes in Dalton because it will no longer be funded by TANF but from another program.

The Dalton outpatient program will treat men as well as women starting July 1. The program will also lose its day care program and the four transitional housing units it has for some patients. Silvers said the four women currently in the transitional housing units will either graduate the program by June 30 or be moved elsewhere until they finish the program.

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