Inpatient addiction treatment centers in Houston are experiencing staffing shortages and other problems due to the omicron variant.
The Cheyenne Center added plexiglass barriers to protect patients and counselors and until recently could not allow anyone from outside the center to visit.
Visitors have been allowed to see clients at the inpatient rehabilitation center for the past two months, but Santos said she wouldn’t be surprised if it stopped again due to the omicron surge.
“For quite a while there were no visitors,” said Catherine Santos, CEO of the Cheyenne Center. “It’s a very important element for recovery, it’s to involve the family, so it was not good.”
Santos said the staffing shortage at his rehab has worsened with the increase in cases caused by the omicron surge. To make up the difference, Santos said all staff are getting involved with additional responsibilities wherever they can.
“I did the laundry,” Santos said. “I worked in our haberdashery. We’re just really short, and so everyone’s jumping in and wearing a lot of different hats.
The nonprofit Houston rehab center offers court-ordered drug rehab under its contract with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Because of this contract, he must follow Department of Criminal Justice rules for COVID-19: staff members who test positive cannot return to work until they receive a negative test result. , which Santos says takes about a week.
Most of the positive COVID cases at the Cheyenne Center are staff members. Only five of the 150 patients are positive and they are being kept in quarantine wards to slow the spread.
More and more people have needed drug treatment since the start of the pandemic. According to reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 41 million people aged 12 or older needed treatment for substance abuse in 2020, up from more than 21 million people in 2019.
But the Cheyenne Center says it’s been able to handle the workload so far: With the increase in substance abuse, the Cheyenne Center should have seen an increase in patients, but Santos said the court backlog has led to fewer court-ordered rehab stays. The rehab center also takes non-residential patients through a program with the Department of State and Texas Health Services, but those numbers have also declined.
Before COVID-19, the treatment center had 290 patients. Now he has 150.
“I think we’d be jam-packed, and we’re not,” Santos said. “It’s so confusing to me.”
Decreasing patient numbers are the only reason the Cheyenne Center has been able to maintain an acceptable staff-to-patient ratio during its current staffing shortage.
The PaRC Prevention and Recovery Center, a drug treatment center in Houston, keeps clients who test positive in an isolation unit to protect other patients from the virus.
PaRC fared better than other recovery centers in Houston with COVID staffing shortages this month, said Cameron A. Bolish, CEO of the treatment facility. Their worst shortage came after the Thanksgiving holiday.
Bolish said their facility has staffing protocols in place to minimize the impact of missed work due to COVID, something they’ve been dealing with for nearly two years.
“The variation has changed, but the trend has remained the same,” Bolish said.
People receiving inpatient drug treatment must adapt to new treatment policies due to the pandemic. Bolish said his rehab center is limiting face-to-face interactions and enforcing mask mandates at the center.
Right now, Bolish said there is an epidemic of addiction and drug overdose deaths amid the pandemic — and watching patients struggle to recover amid COVID restrictions is difficult, a- he declared.
“Do we have a light at the end of this tunnel? Bolish asks. “Or is it just the new tunnel?”
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