Help and hope for women battling addiction during pregnancy

The Means Report

We hope to open your eyes about an agency that’s available right here in Augusta to women who need it, women who are battling with substance abuse issues, women who are pregnant and dealing with those same issues, and even after they have their baby. We want to cover that topic for you and let you know the good work that’s going on. Also, if someone is addicted, if they are battling substances, how can we make sure that they get on the road to better health and don’t relapse? And, of course, what kind of support and education is out there for the whole family because it is an affair that affects all of us when somebody is in trouble.

Brad Means: Our friends from the Hope House have been kind enough to join us. I know you have heard of that agency. Do you know the kind of work they do? You’ll find out over the course of the next half hour. Christy Pennington and Kristen Dietert are with me today. Thank you all so much for the work you do and for joining me.

Christy Pennington: Thank you, thank you for having us.

Brad Means: Well, it’s my pleasure, I appreciate it. Christy, I’ll start with you, just, I guess a general definition of Hope House is a place that provides inpatient and outpatient treatment for the kind of women I just described. Is that accurate?

Christy Pennington: Yes, we are a treatment facility, residential and outpatient. We do serve women. We’re unique. We’re the only facility in 13 counties that allows women to bring their children. So they don’t have to make the decision to get help or be a mom, they can do both.

Brad Means: Kristen, is it busy? Are you all busy over there?

Kristen Dietert: We are busy and we want more referrals to keep us busy. So right now we have a residential treatment program, but we also specialize in outpatient. So that’s where a woman can stay with her family, stay in the home that she has, but come back and forth for services.

Brad Means: How do you all decide who stays and who’s gonna be outpatient? What’s the determining line there?

Christy Pennington: Most of the women with open DEFACS cases, women with children, they need more, more services, and we’re able to offer that, case management, parenting education, which we also offer to our outpatient women, but a lot of times when there’s a child in the home, they’re just safer in residential.

Brad Means: Where do those referrals come from? Is it mainly DEFACS as Christy indicated? Do sometimes people just knock on the door?

Kristen Dietert: We get a great variety of mix. So a lot of those come from the criminal justice system. So we have a great relationship with local law enforcement. Someone who may have gotten in trouble in the past, family members, church referrals, Department of Family and Children’s Services, so we do have self-referrals as well, but it’s a little bit of everything.

Brad Means: I want to talk about a program at Hope House. As I mentioned at the top of the broadcast, it helps women who are pregnant or women who have delivered their babies. That’s a tough, challenging time for any woman anyway. You throw in substance abuse concerns and it makes it even worse I’m sure. So, what are some things that you can do to help those women get through that time and come out the other side healthier and happier? Either one of you all can answer that.

Kristen Dietert: Sure, we really specialize in the family-centered treatment. So if mom is struggling, again, postpartum pregnant is one of the most difficult times in a woman’s life. You toss in substance use disorders and it’s generational a lot of times, you know, maybe mom smoked, maybe mom drank, so you know, that woman is learning from her elders. So what we do is we provide all the services under one roof. We will transport mom to and from her house. We’ll provide quality and safe child care which comes at an expense most of the time. And all of these outpatient services, group counseling, meeting with a registered nurse, all of this is free of cost to the family, as well as a fatherhood specialist who meets with the dad if that individual is part of the family structure.

Brad Means: Does a substance use disorder have to be part of the equation for Hope House to get involved? In other words, can a woman just dealing with postpartum depression come to you?

Kristen Dietert: So, we specialize in substance use disorder if it’s just a mental health concern, we can refer them out, but a lot of times, it’s co-occurring. They go hand-in-hand. It’s very rare that you see one without the other in the current climate we have today.

Brad Means: Where are the doctors that you’re talking about? Are they at Hope House?

Christy Pennington: We do tele psychiatry. So they’re not local.

Brad Means: Yeah, y’all just get on the computer, interact with them. How do they determine if somebody’s postpartum depression is straight up postpartum depression or if it’s because of the substances?

Kristen Dietert: We use medical assessments. One of the biggest assessments we use is called the Edinburgh Scale, which is processed with a registered nurse, the nurse practitioner, and that will evaluate the level of severity. What a lot of people don’t realize is once somebody has postpartum depression in a previous pregnancy, moving forward in future pregnancies they have a higher likelihood of developing those same symptoms again.

Brad Means: You know you mentioned family history, a lot of times can those family members come in and be sounding boards or support systems for these women? How does that work?

Christy Pennington: Yes we actually highly encourage families to get involved. We have a family dynamics night, once a week, it’s on Thursday, every Thursday form five to seven pm. We really strongly encourage family involvement.

Brad Means: How long does it take for a woman to turn the corner, if you will, or start to get better under the program you have described?

Kristen Dietert: It truly depends. It depends on what the substance was, how long they were using, what ever barriers they had to getting treatment in the past. But we usually aim from anywhere from six months to nine months, to help them with self sufficiency, and get them stabilized and on that road to recovery, because recovery for one person is not the same for another. So all of our treatment planning is personalized to that individual woman and her concerns and whatever her timeline looks, you know, we help her get form A to Z.

Brad Means: What do these women look like? Is it the pregnant, homeless, woman we pass on the street? Is that who’s at Hope House?

Christy Pennington: It differs. No, its your sister, your daughter, your mom. There’s no look, there’s no, it doesn’t discriminate, substance use disorder affects everyone, every race, everything.

Brad Means: What causes it? What are some of the main things that lead people to turn to substances for that escape and then eventually that dependency?

Kristen Dietert: A lot of it is education. So if you take someone who is young, and they have these large emotions, whether its anger, anxiety, frustration, and these individuals all of a sudden don’t know how to cope at a young age, they become adults who can’t cope with the larger problems that life throws at them. And so a lot of times, using the substances really numb the problem, it helps them forget the problem, so truly, you know we believe that prevention and education is important for children when they’re young, because if they don’t get it early, they very well can develop into adults who also don’t know how to cope.

Brad Means: How do you get to them? How do you reach those children and get that education started with them?

Kristen Dietert: We have a lot of community partners that we work with the community connections in our community, and we’ve worked to you know talk to youth and to get them educated, as well as the children who’s parents that we serve, so that they know, just because mom has a substance use disorder, that they won’t necessarily be on that path.

Brad Means: What’s the age range of clients at Hope House? I’m guessing pretty young to pretty old? What’s it like there, age wise?

Christy Pennington: The demographic has changed, with the crack epidemic you know a lot of our women were older, African-American women, and in today’s opioid epidemic they are quite young and Caucasian. Our average age right now is 24.

Brad Means: 24 years old, and is that the main culprit you see these days, opioids, painkillers, is that dominating the landscape?

Kristen Dietert: It is, and the latest data that came out from the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, shows that Richmond County is fifth in the state for the number of opioids that are being tested by GBI with the other four counties being those surrounding Atlanta. So we are unfortunately leading Georgia in the wrong race.

Brad Means: It’s an epidemic, isn’t it?

Kristen Dietert: It truly is, yes.

Brad Means: I want to show the people what you are doing, not in my words or your words, but in a really great video that Hope House has put together. It will kind of tie everything we’ve been talking about together and give you a deeper understanding of the benefits of seeking Hope House’s help. When The Means Report continues.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report, talking to our friends from Hope House, specifically about how they are helping women dealing with pregnancy and post-partum issues. They put together a wonderful video that tells the story, take a look.

It’s okay to ask for help. As mothers we try to of it all ourselves.

I remember when I first got here, my councilor asked me, tell me one good thing about yourself, and all I could do was cry for the first six months. I didn’t think that I was even like worth anything, I didn’t think I had anything to live for.

I wanted to get involved with Hope House because I loved that they served women in need.

One of the reasons I love working at Hope House, is because everybody here is committed to the treatment of those we serve.

[Dr.Vernon] Hope House offers a lot of services to women that aren’t available elsewhere in our community. They focus on prevention, on treatment, and recovery. They’re with women from the beginning to the end of their pregnancies, and then they continue that care throughout, past the birth, into that first year, which is so vital for women. As a public health crisis we need to meet people where they’re at.

[Mysia] The support system is something really good, and to know that it’s okay that you messed up.

[Lindsey] Don’t ever feel like you’re alone. This is a program that’s here to give you the coping skills that you need to be successful.

[Dr. Vernon] People need mental health care, and we know that mental health is one of those public health services that is not being well met, especially in our state.

I didn’t really feel like I would ever be able to be sober, it’s just been a whirlwind of jails and institutions.

[Dr. Vernon] And now they’re working to maintain that sobriety, and be the best mom that they can.

The post-partum and pregnant woman program includes a variety of services, including health focus groups, sober living, sober lifestyle, parenting coach, they get the opportunity to meet with a registered nurse, to talk about their health goals, and we’re hoping by having everything under one roof, and eliminating those barriers, that we can keep women in recovery and let them know that life is going to be okay. There is a huge stigma in society about women getting help when they’re pregnant of if they have small children.

[Mysia] My daughter came two months early, she was born premature at 28 weeks and three days, one pound, 13 ounces.

I had my son at 17 and I was in rehab for the first time about six months later, at 18. Kind of what got me here and then what’s kept me here, is I need to get myself better so I can be an example for them.

As soon as I cam here, I was like that weight was finally lifted off of me. I was finally ready to do something different for my life and also to give her the best life that she deserves. Because she didn’t ask to come into this world, but she’s here now and she deserves the best that she could possibly get.

My children have a mother that is dependable, and I owe so much of where I’m at today

Hope House is definitely the place to get you back on your feet.

For them helping me, and loving me, enough to never give up on me, when I had given up on myself. Changes that I’ve seen in myself since coming to Hope House are that I have a healthier support network that I can lean on during the difficult time, I’m building back healthier relationships with my family. I love myself today and I make choices that reflect that.

Since I’ve been at Hope house, I’m willing to start my day off right instead of going for the drugs when I first wake up.

They gave me a chance, to be a mother, and to be a woman, and to expand all of my dreams and aspirations. And there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t thank God for putting them in my life.

And that’s the hope that Hope House gives. It’s for women to receive these treatments, to life better lives for both themselves and for their children. Programs like these will help the women get the care that they need.

Brad Means: Christy Pennington and Kristen Deitert from Hope House continue to join us on The Means Report. What a powerful video that was ladies, Hope House taught me to love me when I didn’t love myself. What’s that look like day to day? I’m imagining there’s a lot of education involved?

Kristen Dietert: Yeah, so any day on our campus were providing individualized treatment to these women, so if they need parenting classes, health, wellness, relapse prevention education, as well as general coping skills, and how to imagine what they’re lives are going to look like when they’re in recovery moving forward. We teach them to have positive expectations, we teach them that hope and health is here, so it’s a, everyday is a beautiful day when you’re at Hope House.

Brad Means: Everything sounds so upbeat, do you ever hold a mirror up to the ladies and say look who you’re hurting?

Kristen Dietert: We do, and we also hold a mirror up when we say look who you’re helping, look who you’re fighting for, remember back when you were younger, is this how you saw your life working out? And what happened to get you where you are? And how do we make you a better version of who you’re meant to be?

Brad Means: I know you all are doing the best job possible Christy, but its not a perfect world, do you have a lot of relapses, do you have a lot of the same faces showing back up?

Christy Pennington: We have women who have setbacks for sure, I actually completed treatment at Hope House, we have seven peers on staff, so it’s, you know it’s a life long disease, substance use disorders, so it’s hard to manage a success rate. But…

Brad Means: How do you do it? What? Day to day? Minute by minute?

Christy Pennington: Yes, minute by minute.

Brad Means: First of all, congratulations.

Christy Pennington: Thank you.

Brad Means: For what you’ve done, for what you’ve accomplished. You must be seen, she must be seen, as a role model around there?

Kristen Dietert: She is, and when you think of somebody who is as tall as she is, she’s truly a lighthouse, and she let’s the women know even in the darkest of times, you can find something to be grateful about, you can find something good that you’re doing, and so she spreads so much light and positivity, from the peer perspective, as I have walked this road, so I can help, I can hold your hand, and help you too.

Brad Means: Do you have that credibility with the clients, Christy? Do you have that capability to got to them in their darkest hour and turn them around? I imagine there’s been some pretty intense moments between you and them?

Christy Pennington: Yes, absolutely. I am a certified peer specialist for addictive diseases, which means that I went through a training and was certified by the state of Georgia to council peers. To coach them, in their darkest hour. And the fact that I’ve been there, and I’ve overcome, is, it just speaks to them in a way that you know, a regular person can’t.

Brad Means: You know, you being here is such a powerful testimony, but beyond that, what would you say to a woman who’s watching right now, or their loved one, and says yeah I need help, but I’m not looking for a Hope House setting, I don’t want to be locked up and taught all day?

Christy Pennington: Yeah we actually meet people where they’re at, and there are som many avenues to recovery here in Augusta. The recovery community is enormous, and its huge, and there are several avenues. If treatment is not the option for you, we don’t turn anyone away. We help them, there’s tons of interim services here in Augusta, there’s just lot of help for the recovering community, and we meet people where they’re at, and we help them become who they were meant to be.

Brad Means: How do people pay you?

Kristen Dietert: So right now with our post-partum and pregnant woman program for outpatients services, that is entirely free of cost. So what is really really great from that program, is transportation, childcare, everything will not cost that family a dime. Now we do have assessment services, other services, that involve insurance, it involves Medicaid, and other things like that nature, but the first thing that’s most important is to get their foot in the door, we’ll figure out the finances later.

Brad Means: Who watches the babies?

Kristen Dietert: We have trained and qualified healthcare staff, and childcare staff. We have a quality rated childcare center that is therapeutic. It’s the cutest little place on campus for those kiddos to go, while their mom’s in treatment.

Brad Means: And if babies need treatment, can you help with that, or is that another agency?

Kristen Dietert: So with babies who are in need, whether they’re, you know, struggling with detox and absence, that’s best equipped with the hospitals, because they’re infants and they’re tiny little humans. It’s best that those doctors and pediatricians take care of them offsite at the hospital.

Brad Means: How can the community help you all? Just donations? Donations of money? Other stuff?

Kristen Dietert: We take donations, we love our communities support partners including the united way, but also we have volunteer opportunities. So at any time, hopehouseaugusta.org is the main hub to get information about how to give and to support our mission.

Brad Means: What about if a potential client is going through the court system, and Hope House gets involved, can that reduce or impact their sentence?

Kristen Dietert: That absolutely can. Of course it‘s up to the individual judge who can review their treatment progress, see what they’ve done, how much they have attended, and if they’ve had any positive screenings from us, but usually getting help is really the best thing that they can do, not just for their sentence moving forward but also just for them as a person.

Brad Means: Christy what made you take that first step? I’m trying to encourage any and everybody who’s watching to do the same. What motivated you?

Christy Pennington: Just wanting to… just be happy. Live a different life. You know I was 32 years old, no job, no drivers license. I’ve gotten, you know, I’ve gotten a couple of DUI’s. Living at home with my mom, and breaking her heart everyday. I mean what’s what essentially got me to inquire about recovery. It was just seeing the pain in my mom.

Brad Means: What are the relationships like now, with mom and everybody else?

Christy Pennington: Amazing. I have relationships, that’s probably the most cherishable item I’ve gained in recovery, is relationships with other people, the fact that I can be there for someone, I’m present today, it just, that’s the most important thing to me.

Brad Means: You know, I asked you, Kristen, at the beginning of the broadcast if you were busy? You said you were, I was kind of sad because we want nobody to have to come get help, but that’s not reality is it?

Kristen Dietert: So right now, because we have a diverse group of programs, if anyone comes to us, they’re going to get quality help from trained staff, and so it’s never a situation where we’re too busy to serve somebody, but with the opioid epidemic that has impacted the greater CSRA, Georgia, and The United States, we are seeing an increase, because more people who are younger are seeking help.

Brad Means: Well I can’t thank both of you enough, Kristen, for the work that you’re doing to help turn peoples lives around, and Christy for being the powerful example that gets that whole process started. You are both huge blessings to women in our community.

Kristen Dietert: Thank you for having us.

Christy Pennington: Thank you.

Brad Means: Absolutely, congratulations to you, keep it up. And you all are always welcome here.

Kristen Dietert: Thank you.

Christy Pennington: Thanks.

Brad Means: Remember, Hope House is there for you folks, there’s their website, their phone number, and their Facebook address, please reach out to them. And if somebody you love is having issues, reach out on their behalf, let Hope House take it from there.

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Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.