Another great article by our friends at Auburntownship.org. Lake – Geauga Recovery Centers on the hot seat again.
From public programs that this writer has attended, it appears that drug addiction has become a significant Geauga County program in the last five-to-six years. Although there are significant numbers of Geauga County residents incarcerated or experiencing the side-effects of drug misuse, the bulk of the treatment programs are out-of-county, primarily in Lake County. Although the Geauga County Department of Mental Health is responsible for providing grant money for this agency. Even so, there is only one residential housing facility for recovering addicts in Geauga County: Water Street in Chardon. The others are located in Lake County but do offer housing opportunity to about 40 recovering Geauga County drug/alcohol addicts.
Melanie Blasko, Executive Director of the Lake-Geauga Recovery Centers, appeared at the Tuesday, June 18, 2019, Commissioner Meeting to provide the annual recap of accomplishments of the entity and to seek the $44,150 annual financial support from the Geauga Commissioners to pay for an employee to provide treatment eight hours per day for four days a week to patients housed in the Geauga County jail. The total annual budget is five million dollars, with the Geauga County Department of Mental Health responsible for providing $360,000 to fund fifty full-time and twenty part-time employees. A little less than 50% of the funding comes from Medicaid. Forty-to-fifty of those treated per year are prisoners in the Geauga County Jail, but it is unclear how many of these are non-residents of Geauga County, whose services are being financed by Geauga County taxpayers. Outside of the jail-treatment program 250-300 Geauga clients are served annually, and 31 are residential patients, presumably from both Lake and Geauga Counties. Of 83 opiate-addicts, 23 are from Geauga.
Ms. Blasko noted the recovery centers use an outcome-based program to determine that 70% of the participants have remained sober after six months. This writer was unable to determine if the term sober encompasses both alcohol and drug addiction or is limited to alcohol-addiction. In 2018 there were 31 residents from Geauga County with 23 Geauga residents thus far in 2019. At the one-year follow-up conducted in 2019, 57% of the men and 59% of the women were still sober. There are currently five recovery centers (four in Lake County), all approved by the Ohio Recovery Centers Registry.
Both Geauga County and Lake County have drug courts, although their organization is quite different. The Lake County Drug Court, which was established by a municipal court judge, started as a program for low-risk municipal-court offenders. As a result, according to Blasko, the program pool missed Lake County Jail residents. Blasko did not compare Lake and Geauga outcomes but said she would research them for possible inclusion in later annual reports to the Geauga Commissioners. In Geauga County, Common Pleas Judge Carolyn Paschke has started a Drug Court with the objective of solving the problem while attempting to avoid jail terms.
Although Commissioner Lennon engaged in much of the dialogue with Blasko and prefaced most of his comments with praise and program-support, he voiced confusion about the actual outcomes compared with the stated ones. When he asked if a drug court established at the municipal court level, that is, the Lake County program, would change outcomes by reducing prison sentences and the number of jail prisoners, Blasko was either evasive, not knowledgeable, or in-comprehensive. When Blasko responded “No,” both Lennon and Commissioner Spidalieri seemed incredulous.
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Spidalieri asked the better questions. “Did the Lake County Muni Program involve offenders with multiple or higher-level offenses?” he asked.
“Yes,” Blasko responded but then clarified that the Lake County program utilized a pool of only low-risk participants, thus losing the opportunity to treat a large number of drug- offenders.
“Do you think that the Common Pleas program will benefit Municipal Court outcomes?” Spidalieri asked.
“There is a big expense in the drug program, but less.”
“Where does the reduction in penalties occur?” asked Spidalieri.
“We need to determine the outcomes. . .There are people on substance abuse in the jail that don’t want to participate in the jail treatment program,” explained Blasko.
Spidalieri sounded incredulous: “The numbers in jail should go down.”
Lennon, who had been quiet for the last few minutes, chimed in: “I thought that was the point –a reduced number of incarcerated.”
Spidalieri: “ I still don’t understand. The numbers don’t jibe if there is a different pool [referring to participants at municipal court level in Lake County and participants at common pleas level in Geauga County].”
Blasko acknowledged that she was not 100% certain of the Geauga County data. She said she needs to check if Municipal Court Judge Terri Stupica is involved in any way with Geauga County Drug Court. Further, she expressed her intention of checking further on Lake County Traffic Court outcomes. It was evident that Blasko did not specifically answer all of Spidalieri’s questions even though Lennon praised her and the entity for quality of service and outcomes.
Clearly, the report of Lake-Geauga Recovery Centers’ yearly outcomes raised as many questions as it might have resolved even though it appeared that Commissioner Lennon had not thought out his questions as efficiently as he could have. Spidalieri, on the other hand, had studied the issues and the questions he intended to ask beforehand. Such preparation made a profound difference and helped raise the question of the efficiency of Lake-Geauga Recovery Centers in view of the financial support they raise from the Geauga County Commissioners.