Oaklawn named Provider of the Year for recovery coach work

There’s a paradigm shift happening in mental health and addiction treatment. As our communities grapple with challenges in the field – from rising rates of substance use to staffing challenges to the complexity of navigating the mental health system – one new approach is changing how clients engage treatment: Recovery coaches.

Recovery coaches are people who are themselves in recovery from an addiction or mental health issue and specially trained to help others on their journeys.

In 2016, Oaklawn had one recovery coach. Today, it has 24 and counting. The team has been so transformative, Oaklawn received the Provider of the Year Award from the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction and Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana for its coaching work.

“We have been on the cutting edge and at the forefront,” said Baye Sylvester at a breakfast celebrating the award. He was the lone coach in 2016 – working with people served by St. Joseph County probation.

Now, coaches serve in numerous settings, including homeless outreach, group living homes, the justice system, a local Recovery Café, emergency departments, call centers and more. They respond 24/7 to local hospitals to meet with opioid overdose survivors interested in treatment. They can schedule and transport people to appointments for medication, therapy or inpatient admission. They can help clients find safe and sober housing, apply for jobs and offer unique hope as someone who’s “been there.”

Nationally, coaches are proven to boost the number of clients who start and stay in treatment. Locally, their reach is tremendous, says Brandy House, a coach, trainer and Oaklawn’s program coordinator for coaches:

  • In the month of May, coaches serving the Motels4Now program had 400 interactions and provided resources to 113 people.
  • One coach serving drug court interacts with 50-60 clients each month.
  • One coach serving probation has seen 180 clients since September and helped more than 30 people enter inpatient treatment.
  • During April, Oaklawn’s Mobile Opioid Response Team took 75 calls, helped 20 people start treatment at Oaklawn and referred half to other community partners specializing in their unique needs.

“Each and every time we hired a coach, they showed Oaklawn and the community how valuable this work is,” said John Horsley, Oaklawn’s Vice President of Adult and Addiction Services. “They have transformed this agency and how we think.”

For coaches, the recognition is nice, but it’s not why they do what they do.

Sylvester summed it up like this: “Keeping addicts alive is first and foremost,” he said. “You may not be ready to live in sobriety, but if I can keep you alive, you may be ready someday.”

Ricky Mountsier, a coach who helps staff the Recovery Café in South Bend, repeated a concept heard frequently in recovery circles: recovery is about connection. He noted that even the team being together to celebrate their good work is part of the connection they need. That’s what he hopes to help his clients find. Said Mountsier: “Community is recovery.”

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