By Rebecca Walter
Times-News Staff Writer
The Free Clinics has offered services to Polk County residents for over a decade, and recently opened an office in Columbus. The location officially opened April 1 of this year, but was not available for in-person clients immediately due to previous coronavirus stay-at-home restrictions…
Read more at BlueRidgeNow
The Free Clinics was recently invited to take part in a virtual press conference by the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits to share our unique challenges during the pandemic (such as patients’ internet access for telehealth services; seeing increasing numbers of patients; volunteer loss; and the rise in behavioral health concerns for our community), and urge federal leaders to take action to ensure nonprofits like TFC can continue helping the members of our community.
You can view the press conference on YouTube here, with remarks from TFC’s executive director Judy Long starting at 33:45.
Last month, The Free Clinics and Henderson County were honored with the Local Government Federal Credit Union (LGFCU) Excellence in Innovation award from the NCACC for our Behavioral Health Navigation for Inmates program.
In this brief video, Patient Health Advocate/Navigator Tina LaFoy describes the impact this important new program has on the health and well-being of the individuals in detention and their families.
This infographic charts the development of this award-winning program in the Henderson County Detention Center, and the remarkable results we have achieved so far.
On August 31st, International Overdose Awareness Day, Henderson County and The Free Clinics launched the brand new Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT).
This team, who themselves have lived experience with addiction, will visit our community members who have recently experienced an overdose or been resuscitated by Naloxone, as well as individuals recently released from detention, to offer support and connect them with resources that can help.
To learn more about this important new program and the impact it will have on our neighbors living with substance use disorder:
The Free Clinics announced that a new program is set to launch after a brief delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Late in 2019, Henderson County was awarded a Community Linkages to Care Grant for a Post-Overdose Response Team (PORT). Through this program, Certified Peer Support Specialists will work with county EMS and the two local emergency departments to follow-up within 72 hours with people who have experienced an overdose and/or been resuscitated by naloxone. The specialists will meet with the individual and any support person available to provide information about resources for care. They will also follow up with people who have recently been released from detention that are interested in receiving support when they return to the community.
The program was in the early development stages in March when it was forced to pause due to the North Carolina quarantine, and it wasn’t feasible to start the program under those conditions. “We can’t wait any longer to get this help to our community members who need it,” explained Jodi Grabowski, Behavioral Health System Coordinator for Henderson County. “We know that the conditions that lead to substance use and overdose — isolation, job loss, and other stressors — are being amplified by the pandemic. We’re confident we can provide this service while meeting COVID-19 safety guidelines.”
The grant required that the local department of public health contract with a local nonprofit experienced in working with vulnerable populations including people who may be experiencing homelessness, are justice-involved, and dealing with behavioral health challenges and substance misuse, and The Free Clinics (TFC) was identified as the contracted agency for the project.
The peer specialists will carry and distribute naloxone kits, at no cost by The Free Clinics, as well as other harm reduction information and materials.
“Peer support is based on mutuality and the understanding that we, too, have been there,” explained Virginia Frechette, Certified Peer Support Specialist for the PORT program. “As an overdose survivor, understanding that I was not alone, that someone cared enough to create a safe space in meeting me right where I was in all of my shame and anxiety was paramount of my willingness to walk in to treatment and recovery.”
Her teammate, Lexie Wilkins, concurs. “Meeting our peers right where they are, sharing my lived experience to help others overcome life’s challenges and barriers, and walking alongside them and supporting them… it lets them know that they’re not alone, and they can achieve whatever type of life that they want.”
The PORT program will launch in the same week as International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held each year on Aug. 31 to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.
In addition to their direct service work, the PORT specialists will gather data about the experiences of the people they serve that will inform efforts toward improving services and resources in Henderson County. The team will work closely with colleagues from TFC, which include two staff based at the detention center: a licensed therapist and a discharge navigator, a position created based on recommendations from the county’s recent task force focused on substance misuse.
TFC Executive Director Judith Long says of the new program, “The Free Clinics is honored to partner with the county on this exciting and life-changing project. At a community level, we have long recognized the devastation that substance use disorder can have on persons, families, and communities; the pandemic has dramatically heightened the need. This project is more critical now than ever. We look forward to the lives we can touch and save through the multiple partnerships and dynamic engagement of our two new PORT peer support specialists.”
For more information about the Post-Overdose Response Team, please contact Virginia Frechette at 828-845-0441 or Lexie Wilkins at 828-845-0541.
MountainXpress: Henderson County launches post-overdose response team
Henderson County has received a 2020 Local Government Federal Credit Union Excellence in Innovation Award from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
The award-winning program was developed as a result of the Henderson County Board of Commissioner’s 2019 Substance Use Task Force, in partnership with the Henderson County Department of Public Health, the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, and The Free Clinics. It was created to address substance abuse disorder within individuals in the county detention center and implement a plan for treatment during and after their release.
“The Free Clinics is honored… to be part of this successful collaborative project to provide person-centered care for the inmates of our county detention center,” said TFC Executive Director Judith Long.
We are proud and inspired by our Patient Health Advocate Tina LaFoy’s efforts, with the rest of the Detention Center team, to make this program truly impactful to the health and well-being of our neighbors in need tere.
Read more at the Hendersonville Lightning HERE.
by Kay West
For two years, supporters of The Free Clinics in Hendersonville have gathered annually for Sunset Dining, a dinner on a Sugarloaf Mountain ridgetop to raise funds for the nonprofit, which was founded in 2001 to ensure health care accessibility for uninsured, low-income clients. “The event is held in an open-air pavilion at Cabin Ridge,” says Sarah Friedell, community relations coordinator for TFC. “It is just a stunning venue with gorgeous mountain views and a spectacular sunset.”
And despite current social distancing challenges, Sunset Dining will go on, she assures, if not exactly as originally planned. “Like everything else, including TFC services, we had to pivot to a creative alternative.”
Thanks to WTZQ Radio and United Way of Henderson County for featuring TFC during their United Way Moment last week! If you didn’t catch it live, listen here to executive director Judy Long talk about the impact that the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund has made for our work: https://www.wtzq.com/episode/the-free-clinics
We are grateful for our partnerships with institutions like Blue Ridge Community College, who refer learners like Cecilia to volunteer with us. These students help provide critical services to our community, while gaining valuable experience in future careers like pharmacy and medical interpreting. And now, with many students at home taking their classes online, we’re seeing even more offering to help. Thank you, student volunteers! #nvw#NationalVolunteerWeek
Watch BRCC’s interview with TFC volunteer Cecilia here: https://youtu.be/8GYC_RwrcIw
WLOS News 13 speaks with executive director Judith Long about why our patients need a variety of Wi-Fi access points to access vital telehealth services while observing social distancing guidelines.
Watch the clip at WLOS.com