FREEHOLD, NJ – As the opioid crisis rages across the country, services are strained more than ever due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But thanks to the connections of Monmouth ACTS (Assisting Community Through Services), one grant led to three new programs – and room to grow even further.
When the Monmouth County Division of Behavioral Health was offered the chance to submit an innovative grant proposal to the New Jersey Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services addressing the opioid epidemic, Division Director Desiree Whyte knew the opportunity would be the perfect project to bring to Monmouth ACTS’ Behavioral Health Hub, or working group, of which she is co-chair.
“We came together to brainstorm, and determined there was a need to really engage residents struggling with Substance Use Disorder (SUD) throughout the County, and connect them with services,” she says. The Hub developed a proposal that would fund a “boots on the ground” approach – a unit of partnering agencies that would go to targeted communities on a regular schedule to educate residents about SUD and provide connections to available services. The state approved the proposal, and the grant was awarded to RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery (IFPR), adding $215,000 into the community to support services. With the grant, IFPR partnered with the Borough of Highlands Police Department (HPD) to offer mobile recovery support services to residents impacted by opioid use disorder.
The partnership, called Unhooked, offers training to all HPD police officers, helping them identify people with SUD, and to communicate with them in a positive way that may lead them to seek help. With the partnership, officers can now call upon peer recovery specialists with IFPR, like Joan Sciorta, and work with them to engage and connect residents with life-saving treatment.
“We’re making personal connections with those suffering from addiction and their families too,” says Sciorta. “So now they have us as a resource for the future, and they can call us at any point in their journey for support. It’s a beautiful thing. If this could happen everywhere, it would change the world.”
The partnership and training, says Highlands Police Chief Robert Burton, has been crucial for his officers. “We’re connecting people with real help, right now,” says Chief Burton. “They say it takes a village – that’s the case here. We all have a collective goal – getting people help. We put everything aside and figured out how to work together to make it happen. And now other police departments are reaching out, wanting to know about Unhooked, because they’re seeing that it’s working and they want to get involved.”
In addition to the mobile recovery services, the grant also required a collaborative be established. The Behavioral Health Hub and IFPR worked together to establish the Monmouth County Recovery Collaborative, built under the grant as a means to better coordinate services for residents. The Collaborative is a recovery-oriented, person-centered network of services within Monmouth County who aim to streamline resources, facilitate cross-agency referrals and address challenges and gaps to service.
“Working together to understand what the community’s needs are, and building programs to meet those needs – it’s thrilling to think about how well this grant is working,” says Lynn Seaward, BA, CTTS, Assistant Director, RWJBarnabas Health Institute for Prevention and Recovery. “We hope this model catches on across New Jersey.”
“There was worry that these technically competing agencies would step on each other’s toes – what we’re seeing in the Collaborative is the exact opposite,” adds Whyte. “They’re excited to come together, they’re offering to help each other. Everyone wants the same thing, which is to see residents do well.”
The innovative grant also encourages the Collaborative to continue looking for communities in need, so another new project launched under the grant is a series of virtual recovery support meetings at Brookdale Community College (BCC) called All Recovery. The meetings provide a safe space for students impacted by SUD to find emotional support, ask questions and connect with resources.
“These may seem like different programs, but they are all part of the same innovative grant. The beauty of this is how we can tailor a program in each community based on that community’s needs. So the Unhooked program in Highlands will look different than the All Recovery virtual meetings at BCC, which will look different in than future expansions,” says Freeholder Deputy Director Susan M. Kiley. “It’s exciting to see the growth opportunity here.”
“This is a great embodiment of the spirit and mission of Monmouth ACTS coming to life,” says Freeholder Director Thomas A. Arnone. “These partnerships and community collaboration are exactly what ACTS strive to accomplish.”
About Monmouth ACTS
Monmouth ACTS (Assisting Community Through Services) was launched by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2019 to carry out recommendations of a Human Services Needs Assessment. This innovative public-private partnership brings together County employees from the Department of Human Services and community partners on the Monmouth ACTS Advisory Council (MAAC) to enhance access to services for County residents. For more information, visit www.monmouthACTS.org.