Integrated substance abuse program provides hope and healing in the High Desert

June 01, 2019

Juan DeRosas*, 27, was homeless when he was admitted to the seven day detox program at St. John of God Healthcare Services in Victorville. After withdrawing from heroin and methamphetamines, Juan was transferred to the St. John of God 90 day in-patient program, where he received counseling services for his severe depression, severe anxiety and bi-polar disorder.

During his sessions, Juan’s therapist discovered that he was mentally and emotionally incapacitated due to grief over his mother’s death, which had led to numbing himself through substance abuse. He eventually fell so deep into his addiction that he was unable to keep a job or a home, and was forced to live on the streets of Victorville, suffering from the extreme temperature fluctuations typical of the region. When he entered the St. John of God program, Juan was physically weak and overcome with feelings of hopelessness.

Juan’s story is not uncommon. Substance abuse, mental health and homelessness are often interrelated. In fact, 70 percent of the 300 men and women treated at St. John of God each year are homeless or have underlying mental health issues such as trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and some psychotic conditions. St. John of God is a faith-based, non-profit organization that has been providing a range of substance abuse treatment programs in the High Desert region since 1985.

“Substance abuse is often a symptom of a deeper issue,” said Kevin Mahany, director of community health investment at St. Mary Medical Center. “Without a holistic approach that includes mental health and post-treatment support services like housing and employment opportunities, many participants find themselves back in treatment just a few years later.”

However, the High Desert region has a significant need for housing solutions, a lack of substance abuse treatment programs and a shortage of mental health providers. In fact, St. John of God provides the only 90 day in-patient substance abuse program in the Victor Valley, a region with more than 500,000 residents.

As like-minded organizations deeply committed to upholding the missions of their founders, which share a common focus on serving those most in need, St. John of God and St. Mary Medical Center formed a partnership many years ago and have been dedicated to providing much-needed treatment and support services to this vulnerable population.

“The partnership between St. John of God and St. Mary Medical Center has been long-standing and productive,” said Mahany. “Our staff has sat on their board for 15 years and, during that time, we’ve invested in programs that address significant regional needs. In fact, St. John of God and St. Mary are currently the only local entities integrating addiction and mental health services along with housing and employment assistance. While there is more work to be done, together, we are making a difference.”

Through a community benefit investment of $12,000 in 2018, St. Mary was able to help provide mental health assessments and therapy to St. John of God patients. In addition, St. Mary received a $600,000 Well Being Trust grant during 2018 to address mental health and addiction. Funds from this grant have hired additional St. John of God addiction and case managers who screen for addiction at St. Mary Medical Center, at hospital clinics and at physician offices. These staff members also help persons in recovery find jobs with key local employers such as Starbucks, United Furniture and Amazon. Finally, St. John of God received $40,000 in 2018 from the Providence St. Joseph Health Community Partnership Fund to provide emergency food and housing to program participants.

Because of the programs and services available through St. John of God, Juan was able to process his grief over his mother’s death through development of a spiritual awareness. He also learned to exchange his negative, self-defeating beliefs for positive ones. In addition, Juan was prescribed antidepressants to help manage his bi-polar disorder. He is now living in the St. John of God recovery home, participating in the outpatient program and working as a cook at the Holiday Inn in Victorville. Most importantly, Juan has hope for himself and his future, something he had gone without for so long.

Success stories like Juan’s are a tribute to the power of community and partnerships like the ones between St. Mary Medical Center and St. John of God.

*This story is based on real patient testimonials; names have been changed to protect patient privacy.