Grant will help Spokane’s Goodheart Behavioral Health reach more Native Americans

A local treatment center focused on Indigenous culture is expanding as it faces increased community needs and a fentanyl crisis in the wake of the pandemic.

Now, the American Indian Community Center’s Goodheart Behavioral Health program can add mental health counseling, thanks to a two-year, $150,000 grant from UnitedHealthcare.

With the funding, the center hired a full-time mental health care provider, Nora Cornelius, who started July 1. She is a Certified Cultural Therapist in Mental Health Counseling.

Since 2017, Goodheart has offered drug and alcohol addiction treatment programs and is licensed for adult intensive outpatient care, outpatient treatment and assessments. It also offers two years of deferred prosecution treatment for the potential dismissal of a drunk driving charge.

Many of the program’s clients have experienced trauma that required mental health services, said Shelley Ethrington, clinical lead at Goodheart Behavioral Health.

“It’s something we’ve needed since we started,” Ethrington said. “Prior to Nora’s arrival on board, we will need to refer for concurrent mental health issues. There are very few mental health counselors in the area who know how to deal with Native American mental health issues.

Ethrington, who advises on drug and alcohol treatment, and office assistant Cassandra Andrew were previously Goodheart’s only two employees.

The program serves approximately 80 clients per year. When mental health services are fully added and Cornelius becomes part of the staff, Ethrington expects an increase of around 150 clients per year. The program does not discriminate and serves both Native Americans and non-tribal customers, she said.

“I think at one point it was 90 percent native and 10 percent non-native,” she said. “It fluctuates. Most of our clients are on Medicaid.

For seniors on Medicare, that insurance doesn’t pay for treatment, so the program sometimes offers a rolling monthly fee, Ethrington said.

UnitedHealthcare recently awarded grants totaling $1 million, split among Washington nonprofits, including Goodheart, with a focus on improving access to care for underserved communities. Another recipient was the Yakima National Alliance on Mental Illness – for Yakima, Wapato and Toppenish – with $87,500 to expand the “Ending the Silence” mental health awareness program and ensure it is culturally relevant. and suitable for Native American and Hispanic high school students.

Earlier this year, Ethrington said he received a call from someone at UnitedHealthcare who had heard positive recommendations about Goodheart’s services.

“She and I have talked a lot about ongoing issues and how we’re dealing with them,” Ethrington said. “I think she liked that we handled things spiritually. We’ve talked a lot about Native Americans and the fentanyl issues that are happening right now in Spokane, and how it’s killing our people. From left to right, they die of overdoses.

“We talked about the fact that almost all Native Americans have co-trauma with PTSD because we were born with it. It’s generational, and they’re using a substance to cover it up. This comes from colonization and boarding schools. It’s in our DNA now.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. Illegal fentanyl is primarily manufactured in Mexico, the agency said.

Fentanyl has become a major regional problem in substance use, Ethrington said. When it comes to past trauma, many Native American families haven’t received the help they needed over the years, so there’s intergenerational trauma, she said.

Cornelius plans to start a culture-based sobriety support group, as part of the White Bison Wellbriety program.

Although Cornelius is licensed, the Goodheart Program is awaiting a license as a mental health counseling provider before it can offer these services.

“I’ve been helping with substance use disorder groups and assessments so far,” Cornelius said. She also applies cultural education and some Native American holistic healing. “We consider it to be a cultural and holistic approach to treating mental health and substance use disorders for healing.”

Cornelius and Ethrington said examples include uses of sage, cedar, red willow bark, sweetgrass, and bear root that may offer natural remedies. The medicine wheel, sometimes depicted with the colors black, white, yellow, and red, has been used by generations of various Native American tribes for health and healing.

“I use the medicine wheel for the treatment of groups and individuals,” said Cornelius. “I use it as a counseling tool for the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of drug or trauma healing.”

Goodheart’s counselors also use a talking circle, a traditional tribal ceremony when a group sits in a circle and usually leaves the East open. A leader uses smudge, a sacred ceremonial smoke that may include a small burn of sage or sweetgrass, as members pass around a sacred object such as a stone or talking stick.

“It’s been distributed, and there’s a lot of prayers,” Ethrington said.

The program’s intensive outpatient care includes clients attending three groups per week in two-hour sessions and one individual session per month. The next level is outpatient treatment with once a week in a two-hour group session and one individual session per month. Clients undergo random urinalysis tests.

In addition, clients must participate in a sober support group. Cornelius’ launch of a White Bison Wellbriety will be another option, where customers can choose between Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Ethrington and Cornelius also plan to visit outdoor areas in the city soon where they know Native Americans use fentanyl.

“We’ll bring food and meet them, maybe have hand drums and beat some drums, and we’ll just sit and be with them for a day – relaxed, just going back and forth without judgment” , Ethrington said. After building relationships, they plan to distribute coats and blankets, and possibly treatment information.

The two advisers said mental health issues, domestic violence and substance abuse have increased during COVID-19, and in recent years the Colville and Spokane tribes have called for a state of emergency due to the numbers. of suicides.

But among clients who receive treatment and recover, there are many success stories, Ethrington said.

“On Monday a kid came to see us and he’s been sober for a year,” she said. “A lot of people are calling us and telling us they’re doing great, which is great.”

Nohemi M. Moore