Houston’s Addiction Treatment Centers Feel the Impact of the Omicron Variant – Houston Public Media

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Houston’s inpatient addiction treatment centers are experiencing staffing shortages and other issues due to the Omicron variant.

The Cheyenne Center added Plexiglas barriers to protect patients and consultants and until recently could not allow anyone from outside the center to visit.

Visitors have been allowed to see clients at the inpatient rehab center for the past few months, but Santos said she wouldn’t be surprised if that closed again because of the Omicron surge.

“There have been no visitors for quite a while,” said Catherine Santos, CEO of the Cheyenne Center. “That’s a really important part of recovery, getting family involved, so that wasn’t good.”

Santos said the staff shortage at her rehab has worsened as cases caused by the Omicron surge have risen. To make up the difference, Santos said all staff are stepping in with extra responsibilities wherever possible.

“I did laundry,” Santos said. “I used to work in our haberdashery shop. We’re very small, so everyone pitches in and wears a lot of different hats.”

The non-profit Houston addiction center offers court-ordered rehab as part of its contract with the Texas Department of Justice. That contract requires it to follow the Criminal Justice Department’s rules for COVID-19: employees who test positive cannot return to work until they receive a negative test result, which Santos says takes about a week.

Most positive COVID cases at the Cheyenne Center are employees. Only five of the 150 patients are positive and are being kept in quarantine rooms to slow the spread.

More people have required treatment for substance abuse since the pandemic began. According to reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than 41 million people ages 12 and older required treatment for substance abuse in 2020, compared with more than 21 million people in 2019.

But the Cheyenne Center says it’s been able to handle the workload for now: With the rise in addiction, the Cheyenne Center should have seen an increase in patients, but Santos said the court backlog has led to fewer court-ordered rehabs. Stays guided. The rehab facility is also accepting unaccommodated patients through a program with the Texas Department of State and Health Services, but those numbers have also been declining.

Before COVID-19, the treatment center had 290 patients. Now it’s 150.

“I think we would be bursting at the seams and we’re not,” said Santos. “This is so puzzling to me.”

The decline in patient numbers is the only reason the Cheyenne Center has been able to maintain an acceptable staff-to-patient ratio despite its current staffing shortage.

The PaRC Prevention and Recovery Center, an addiction treatment center in Houston, keeps clients who test positive in an isolation unit to protect other patients from the virus.

PaRC has fared better than other Houston recovery centers this month with COVID staffing shortages, said Cameron A. Bolish, the treatment facility’s CEO. Her biggest shortage was after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Bolish said her facility has staff protocols in place to minimize the impact of absenteeism due to COVID, which they have been dealing with for nearly two years.

“The flavor has changed, but the trend has stayed the same,” Bolish said.

People in inpatient addiction treatment have to adapt to new treatment concepts due to the pandemic. Bolish said his rehab facility is limiting in-person interactions and enforcing mask mandates at the center.

For now, Bolish said there’s an epidemic of addiction and drug overdose deaths within the pandemic — and it’s difficult to see patients struggling to recover amid COVID restrictions, he said.

“Do we have light at the end of this tunnel?” asked Bolish. “Or is that just the new tunnel?”

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