LOUISVILLE, KY – In an effort to support people recovering from addiction in eastern Kentucky, WellCare of Kentucky donated $20,000 to Operation UNITE for transitional housing grants administrated through the KY HELP Call Center. WellCare’s donation will enable Operation UNITE to assist people recovering from substance use disorders obtain safe, affordable, temporary housing after they leave inpatient care.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Kentucky was in the throes of another public health crisis: the opioid epidemic. According to Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy, substance abuse, particularly the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs, is one of the most critical public health and safety issues facing Kentucky. Over the past decade, the number of Kentuckians who die from drug overdoses has steadily climbed to more than 1,500 each year, taking a devastating toll on families, communities, social services and economic stability.
Today, COVID-19 is presenting unique challenges for those with addiction. For example, the pandemic is making housing more difficult to maintain, as many Kentuckians have lost their jobs in retail, hospitality and food service businesses when those businesses were forced to close. Additionally, the pandemic is causing massive stress — a primary driver of relapse.
For those who seek inpatient help for substance use disorder and eventually enter recovery, transitional housing offers safe living arrangements, vital camaraderie and routine for people working toward self-sufficiency during and after recovery. Without these homes, people emerging from addiction care are more likely to become homeless or return to living situations that promote substance use.
Operation UNITE, a non-profit organization serving 32 southern and eastern Kentucky counties, is a collaborative organization striving to prevent abuse of drugs and to facilitate recovery. UNITE supports Kentuckians fighting substance abuse by connecting them with the resources they need, based on their situation. The KY HELP Call Center serves residents in all 120 counties in Kentucky.
When Kentuckians come to UNITE for help, the UNITE team works to match patients with transitional housing based on their location and need. The KY HELP Call Center maintains a list of approximately 41 transitional housing locations across the Commonwealth that have been evaluated by its staff.
“As the Commonwealth faces the growing COVID-19 pandemic and continues to battle the opioid crisis, WellCare is committed to helping our members and local communities during this challenging time,” said Bill Jones, chief executive officer, WellCare of Kentucky. “As more and more Kentuckians seek ways to address substance use disorders, safe housing and a supportive environment are essential elements on the road to recovery. We are proud to partner with Operation UNITE to help place patients in transitional housing, so they can gain access to the resources and support they need to live better, healthier lives.”
“Safe housing has always been a pressing need for those struggling with substance abuse, and the pandemic has made attaining a spot in these homes even more difficult,” said Courtney Maynard, a Screening & Referral Specialist with the KY HELP Call Center. “WellCare’s generous donation will help connect people in recovery with affordable housing that helps support their goal to maintain sobriety.”
Once UNITE has identified a possible home for a person in recovery, they will coordinate with the housing agency to ensure the person moves in and meets all the house requirements (seeking employment, continuing therapy, etc.). UNITE will coordinate with the home’s administration to use WellCare’s funds to support an individual’s housing fees.
“One of our criteria when placing patients in transitional housing is to find environments that will be a good match for the patient’s goals,” noted Maynard. “For instance, if the next step for someone in recovery is to start searching for a job, it is most helpful for them to be surrounded by other patients who want the same thing and are also going through the job search process. This creates a sense of community among residents and allows them to be a support system for each other.”
In December 2017, UNITE and the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet launched the statewide KY HELP Call Center at 1-8338-KY-HELP (1-833-859-4357) to connect individuals and their families to resources for substance use disorders. UNITE also operates a toll-free Treatment Referral Help Line at 1-866-90-UNITE (1-866-908-6483) where residents living in its service region may be able to receive vouchers for long-term residential treatment for a substance use disorder or learn about other support options. Staff working on the Treatment Referral Help Line handle more than 1,000 inquiries per month. UNITE encourages Kentuckians seeking help to call one of the above hotlines for assistance.