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Some question potential residential treatment center

KBBI file photo

The Homer City Council is deciding whether to help fund a substance abuse treatment center in Homer. Set Free Alaska, a Christian-based organization, hopes to provide men’s residential and co-ed outpatient treatment services. But some of Set Free’s statements about how it compares to other facilities may be misleading, and some residents are questioning the proposed 16-bed operation.

Set Free Alaska executive director Philip Licht knows there is a need for residential treatment in Homer. At a city council meeting last month, he made the case why the Matanuska-Susitna Valley based program should be the one to fill that need.

“Our women's residential program, which is similar to the program we want to start here in Homer has a 50 percent completion rate, which is over 15 percent greater than the statewide average,” he said. “All of our programs really are significantly and statistically greater than the statewide average for outpatient and or residential treatment services.”

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says it wouldn’t make that comparison.  

In an emailed statement, the department said in part there are no programs that are comparable to Set Free and that making any such comparison would be misleading. Still, Licht told council members last month that he could duplicate Set Free’s success in Homer.

“We are the only program in the state who has launched a new residential treatment program at this level in the last 10 years,” he said. “We developed, launched and sustained that program all within one year's time. I believe we can do the same here.”

The city council is considering ordinances that would give Set Free up to roughly $177,000 to help start a program. The measures state that it has successfully run an “addiction treatment center” since 2009.

But according to Set Free’s website, it began providing group and individual therapy in 2010. It has provided additional services since then, but Licht said didn’t launch its women’s residential treatment program until 2017.

Ginny Espenshade is a member of the opioid task force in Homer:

“I think some of the information about this particular program may have been overstated,” she said. “For example, their years of experience with therapy versus their years of experience with residential.”

Espenshade wants more information about Set Free’s program, especially when it comes to medication-assisted treatment. She also questions whether its experience is relevant to Homer, and she wants to know what type of addictions its women’s center has predominately treated.

“I think it would be very helpful in evaluating how what they're offering our community would fit,” she said.

Jay Bechtol is the head of South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services, better known as The Center. He says the southern peninsula needs a residential treatment center but he does question whether Homer could support a 16-bed facility. He also wonders if Set Free would bring in clients from elsewhere.

“If those people that are coming from other parts of the state come here and then drop out of the program or are unsuccessful in the program, does Set Free have a mechanism for returning them to their communities where they have services established or did they create a new need in our community to access our current services and does our city, our community, have that capacity to absorb that?” he said.

Licht says clients from out of town who enter the program will receive transportation assistance back to their community whether or not they complete the program. Licht also told the council that the program would give preference to locals as long as Set Free can do so while aligning with statewide standards for waitlist priorities.

As for Espenshade’s concerns, he said Set Free doesn’t break down its success rates by substance, but he says the program is open to using medication-assisted treatment, also known as M.A.T.

“We do believe in M.A.T. as long as it's done in a way that aligns with SAMHSA, which is the substance abuse mental health services administration,” he said. “As long as it is in partnership with a doctor, we're in favor of it and we just collaborate rather than provide it, we’re not a provider of M.A.T.”

Licht has also continuously addressed another common concern surrounding Set Free’s Christian belief system during his conversations with the community and the city council. He says while there are elements of Christianity throughout the program, Set Free is willing to connect its clients with other spiritual and religious leaders in the community or provide time for other activities.

The Homer City Council is set to take up the matter of whether to help fund Set Free Alaska Monday.


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Renee joined KBBI in 2017 as a general assignment reporter and host. Her work has appeared on such shows as Weekend Edition Saturday, The World, Marketplace and Studio 360. Renee previously interned as a reporter for KPCC in Los Angeles and as a producer for Stateside at Michigan Radio. Her work has earned her numerous press club awards. She holds an M.S. in journalism from the University of Southern California and a B.A. in women's studies from the University of Michigan.
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