Rose McClarnon, DNP, RN has been caring for patients at Butler Hospital in Providence for 12 years, the last four as nurse director of the Alcohol and Drug Inpatient Unit. It’s a role that has given her unique and valuable perspective on the disease of addiction, including one incredibly important insight: one of the factors that often lead people to addiction can also be used to help lead them out of it.
“One of the things that stands out the most for me is when patients thank us for treating them like a person, because they’re not used to that,” McClarnon says.
“A lot of times people are mentally or physically abused in their lives and they feel worthless. Trying to avoid that feeling is sometimes what leads people to abuse alcohol and drugs in the first place. Then, when they become an addict others in society can begin to treat them like trash too, and they feel that,” she says.
“But when they come here [to Butler], they feel like they are valued and like they’re worth getting help. Just reversing that one thing – the way they feel about themselves – can make all the difference. We have excellent staff here that are really invested in helping patients, it’s not just a job to us,” McClarnon says.
“We believe that everybody deserves to have a great life, no matter what’s happened to them before or what others have told them. Everyone has worth, and everyone is worth a shot at sobriety.”
But McClarnon says it’s important to remember that changing people’s perception of themselves, especially while in the grip of addiction, is very rarely one-shot deal. And that’s why intensive inpatient treatment, for not only the addiction but also for any underlying psychological problems, is so important. Continuity of care beyond the intensive phase is also critical, McClarnon says, in order to avoid relapse while people are still rebuilding their confidence and their lives.
“I talk to mothers and fathers all the time that are so upset, they’re in tears talking to me on the phone, telling me they’re afraid they’re going to lose their son or daughter,” McClarnon says. “And the truth is, it might not be just one time or even ten times in treatment before a person is successful at beating addiction. It might take 20 or 30 times before they get to sobriety. But it’s important to remember that we do have people who are successful. It’s not an easy thing, or there would be no addiction treatment centers like ours needed in the first place. But it truly is possible.”
McClarnon says that intensive inpatient treatment like that which is offered at Butler Hospital is essential, as is continued care after that initial phase.
“Continuity of care is so important, but there are often roadblocks to getting them to that step. It might be that they don’t have insurance or can’t afford their co-pays, or don’t have the transportation to get to an outpatient program. That’s why it’s so important that we have the funding available not only to care for them here in the inpatient unit, but to help them get to the next step,” McClarnon says.
“If we can get them to that next step and support them for a longer period of sobriety, they will have a better chance. Sometimes it means getting them to a step-down program like the Crisis Stabilization Unit we have here on the Butler campus and sometimes it’s getting them set up with another similar type of program out in the community.”
Even while patients are still in the intensive inpatient phase of treatment, the work of setting a healthier foundation for life back at home begins. A Patient and Family Education Group is part of the regular programming at the Alcohol and Drug Inpatient Unit at Butler.
“The purpose of the group is to help the patient realize how the family feels, and to help the family understand how the patient feels, too. This gives both sides important insight, at a time when the patient is sober and can really process and realize how their family members are impacted by their addiction,” McClarnon says.
“They’re both suffering and sometimes I think neither realizes how badly the other feels. But that addiction takes over the person, and they really have no control over it after a certain point, and the family often doesn’t truly understand that.”
If there’s one thing McClarnon has learned in her time caring for patients suffering from addiction, it’s that it is not an easy road for anyone involved – but, she says, it is always worth it. That’s what keeps her and her coworkers going, day in and day out.
“We look forward to people coming in and we want to help them. Nobody is looking down at them. The staff feels better themselves when they can actually help someone. That’s why we’re here every day. If we can get them on the road to recovery and then on to the next step where they can keep going in their recovery, that makes all the difference.”
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