PAIA - Maui could be getting more gender-specific programs for substance abuse and mental health treatment.
The merger of three of Maui's key mental health agencies last year has led to better coordination on patient care, including streamlining treatment programs specifically for women, said Aloha House Executive Director Jud Cunningham.
The organization formed a partnership with Maui Youth and Family Services and Malama Family Recovery Center last year. The three branches operate under the Aloha House name.
Shawnee Tu‘ivai, intensive outpatient counselor (second from right in red), shares a light moment last month with group members Emelia Dudoit (from left), Gladys Kupau, Jacqueline Dela Cruz and Michelle Kanada at Malama Family Recovery Center on Baldwin Avenue in Paia. The women in recovery from substance abuse are participating in an all-female outpatient treatment program.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
The merger has made it easier for the unified organization to funnel women coming out of Aloha House's detoxification or residential treatment programs directly into Malama's female-only therapeutic living or outpatient treatment programs, Cunningham said.
While Malama is known for its programs for expectant mothers or women with young children, it is open to all women.
The all-female environment is far more beneficial for women in recovery, many of whom are coping with a history of sexual abuse, rape or domestic violence.
"Let's say you had someone who was pretty traumatized," Cunningham said. "If you could move them into an environment that felt more safe and secure for them, then we could provide that."
Aloha House also operates a males-only therapeutic living program.
Patients who need a higher level of care, like detox or residential treatment, currently have only co-ed programs as an option, although living quarters for men and women are separated.
Cunningham said the agency hopes to expand its gender-specific offerings in the coming years by developing a separate residential treatment program for women.
Residential treatment is a live-in recovery program with intense counseling and group therapy sessions. Therapeutic living is also a live-in program, but more long term and less intense, geared toward helping clients prepare to live on their own through life-skills classes and counseling.
Malama's four-month therapeutic living program provides 10 beds for clients, who have nightly 12-step meetings and participate in classes on life skills, relationships and parenting; receive one-on-one counseling; and attend a weekly house meeting and group activities. Women can also bring their children when they enter the program.
The all-female environment is making a big difference to Starlette, who is eight months pregnant and entering her fourth month in Malama's program.
"It's like a sisterhood," said Starlette, who asked that her last name not be used.
The Big Island mother of five - with three children already adopted by other families and two in foster care - had previously gone through treatment for substance abuse eight times. No other program would take another chance on her, and she tried for three years to get into Malama.
"They finally called and said, 'Are you ready?' And I said, 'Yes, I'm so ready,' " she said.
In addition to helping her prepare for the birth of her sixth child, Starlette said the program helped her recover from addiction by providing a safe place to reflect on her life and learn "not to be a victim of my past." Counseling sessions and group meetings have helped her identify the reasons she'd used drugs, including feelings of guilt over events in her past. The therapy also helped her come to terms with her life story so far.
"There was some things that wasn't my fault, and some things that was," she said.
Outgoing Malama clinical director Anita Laviola said the program provides a "nurturing, loving environment" to help women overcome the trauma of abuse and violence and to break unhealthy patterns in their lives.
"Women who've been through a traumatic past have an interesting pattern of retraumatizing themselves," she said.
Malama is also geared toward taking in women the system might have given up on, she said.
Being around men can make things "complicated" for women in recovery. Having an all-female program gives women a safe place to start taking off their emotional armor, Laviola added.
"They can start looking pretty and dressing well, without worrying someone's going to hit on them," she said.
Starlette said the supportive female environment was the key that gave her hope for a healthy future that would include being reunited with her children.
"Being around addicts, you don't know how to accept love, let alone show love," she said. "This place gives me hope."
Cunningham said the merger among Aloha House, Maui Youth and Family Services and Malama has been so successful that other nonprofits in Hawaii have asked the incorporated agency for advice on how to form their own collaborations.
The change has allowed all three programs to economize and provide more overlapping, hand-in-hand care, he said.
Nowhere are the benefits of the merger more apparent than in school outreach programs, Cunningham added.
For years, Aloha House provided in-school substance abuse treatment, while Maui Youth and Family Services provided adolescent intervention programs, and Malama offered "Baby Safe" outreach to young mothers.
"We've put those together under one clinical director, so they begin to work as a team and support each other in ways they weren't able to when it was three separate organizations," Cunningham said.
The merger also allowed the organizations to share administrative expenses and reduce overlap, saving money.
"Especially in these difficult times, I would encourage organizations that have similar missions to come together and talk about collaborations and partnerships," Cunningham said.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.