New Sobering Center Under Construction...At Last

Oct 17, 2016

Plans for the sobering center are no longer on the drawing board.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

A new sobering center opens next month at a homeless shelter in Providence. It’s a place where inebriated people who would typically be brought to the emergency room can safely sober up. It's meant to save money and guide those patients toward recovery.

Lawmakers authorized the creation of a sobering center more than three years ago. The idea was to provide an alternative to the emergency room where drunk people can sober up. But it’s been on the drawing board ever since, with state, Providence, and nonprofit partners trying to figure out a way to fund and operate it. Now, the newly dubbed “Recovery Navigation Program” is close to becoming a reality. It’s under construction on the second floor of Emanuel House, a homeless shelter in Providence. It’s a pilot, slated to cost about $850,000 dollars a year.

“This is where the recovery navigation program will be next month," says Owen Heleen. Nonprofit mental health care provider The Providence Center is taking the lead running the program. Spokesman Heleen tours the bare bones space.

The sobering center is under construction.
Credit Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

"So we finished demolition. And as you can see we’ve started framing out the space where we’ll serve the clients.”

Heleen says the program is designed for patients some emergency medical technicians and 911 operators have called “Frequent Flyers.”

“The recovery navigation center is designed to serve people who are chronic inebriates, who abuse alcohol, get intoxicated, are most often transported to hospital emergency departments, stay awhile, are discharged, and then that process repeats several times a week.”

Heleen says they hope to break that cycle at the new center. And save the health system some money. Providence spends about $500 dollars for each ambulance run. And the city’s public safety officials say about two-thirds of those runs are for non-emergencies – like transporting a drunk patient to the ER. The emergency department visit itself can cost hundreds of dollars – and that’s just for a bed, a sandwich, and a place to sleep it off. But there’s a better, cheaper way of doing things, Heleen says, that can lessen the burden on emergency rooms and ambulances and connect patients to the help they need to treat their addiction. Lauren D’Andrea will manage the center when it’s up and running.

“And if I’m your client this is the admission desk," says D'Andrea.

She says ambulances have agreed to bring drunk patients here, if they’re medically stable. Nurses will monitor them.

“So once they’re done with the nurse and the nurse believes they’re safe to move on, over on this side what we have is really a lounge area. They’ll be able to meet with a case manager and a peer recovery specialist.”

That recovery specialist knows addiction first-hand, and can talk to patients about their options. While the center remains an empty space for now, you can imagine it full of patients. One room will hold several patient beds. The other, places to sit and meet with counselors. Clients can shower and change. And if they need other help like a place to stay, there’s a shelter downstairs.

Cambridge, Massachusetts has been operating a similar sobering center for several years now. They’ve seen emergency services costs decline. And some clients are ready for the helping hand to get into recovery from addiction.