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Despite Extra Cash, Health Workers and Detox Beds In Short Supply

Odyssey House recently doubled their treatment capacity. But now they need more therapists and case managers.

There’s more money than ever going into homelessness and addiction recovery in Utah right now. But that’s creating some new problems for treatment providers.   

Over the past year, state and local governments in Utah pumped millions of dollars into law enforcement, sober housing and treatment. Tim Whalen with Salt Lake County Behavioral Health called it unprecedented.

“I’ve been with the county about 21 years and right now I think it’s the first time where we have more resources, dollars to pay for services than we have staff and capacity to provide them,” Whalen said. “It’s always been the opposite.”

Treatment provider Odyssey House needs therapists, case managers and prescribers to serve more clients. And Valley Behavioral Health and First Step House are recruiting for the same jobs.

“They’re really kind of bidding against each other,” Whalen said.

And there’s another problem. Volunteers of America needs more detox beds. With more access to long-term drug treatment, those are in high demand. There are usually about 30 people waiting for a bed. Utah’s Medicaid plan doesn’t cover detox unless it’s basically a medical emergency.

Amy Hodgson came to the VOA detox center last October when she crashed her car after drinking heavily.

“When I got here, it was to detox and then I found out, this isn’t such a bad place,” she said.

After Hodgson got clean, she started a treatment program, which will help her stay sober.

“So right now I have my own bed. I have a dresser. I get to go to class every day,” she said. “They are giving me the steps that I need to do to get out there and live on my own and not have to turn to the alcohol like I was doing.”

Tim Whalen said without treatment, clients walk out of detox and right back into the community. That’s where they’re vulnerable to relapse and overdose. Now that treatment is getting some attention, he said it’s time to get more detox beds online.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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