Karl Soderstrom

Karl Soderstrom

WASILLA — Being stuck at home and cut off from social activities because of the coronavirus is hard enough for the average person. For those recovering from addiction, this social isolation can be particularly tough.

“We know that addiction operates in isolation, that recovery is all about connections through relationships, but if you can’t engage with your peer group or your provider, or your recovery community, that’s going to create a challenge,” Mat-Su Opioid Task Force founder Michael Carson said. “Addiction is not gonna take a vacation because of COVID-19.”

That challenge is motivating local organizations like True North Recovery to expand their telemedicine services to keep people up with their meetings and offer additional services to support their needs amid the coronavirus closures.

“People can enter treatment today without ever stepping foot in our office,” True North Recovery founder Karl Soderstrom said.

Soderstrom said they’ve had to close their office to the public and limit the number of staff at the office. They also had to lay off four employees. He said that unless the federal stimulus package comes through, they’re going to have to make do for the time being.

“It’s hard for our clients and for our staff,” Soderstrom said. “But we’re a tough bunch.”

Aside from constant sanitation efforts, True North staff are supporting their residential and intensive outpatient clients with additional support groups specifically formed to help them cope with the various stresses surrounding COVID-19.

“We’re definitely an essential service,” Soderstrom said.

True North is also sending staff to meet regularly with their residential clients.

“It’s really about figuring out how many people are going to continue treatment through these trying times,” Soderstrom said. “Look to your faith… Now is a really good time to practice patience.”

True North already offered some telesupport prior to the recent outbreak, but events have pushed them to expand their range of support with a publicly traded provider of cloud-based communications called RingCentral.

True North ran its first full day of operation with the new system March 25.

Soderstrom said prior to that, they only offered assessment remotely but now, they can offer the whole treatment experience through the internet, from assessments to group therapy sessions via video chat. He said people can utilize every service through their computer or just a smartphone, if need be.

Carson said that telemedicine is proving to be all the more relevant for treatment efforts and the silver lining of the COVID-19 outbreak seems to be that treatment centers across the country are accelerating their remote outpatient efforts and abilities.

“We’re having to think out of the box. I think the coronavirus might be expediting the whole process,” Carson said.

In the end, advancing telemedicine for those seeking treatment will ultimately help providers connect with more people.

“There’s so much more work to be done but I’m so glad that conversation is finally starting to happen,” Carson said. “People are just going to have to reach out more… We just want to make sure people have that vital, open and honest connection, to stay safe and healthy and thriving.”

Soderstrom said that his organization and others across the community are taking advantage of the advent of modern technology, which is proving to be a very effective asset when dealing with the coronavirus social isolation and will help over treatment efforts moving forward.

“I know they’re all on the path to doing it,” Soderstrom said.

Offering telemedicine services is a great way to reach clients in rural areas where trips to a meeting isn’t a simple drive away, according to Soderstrom. It can also serve as an effective tool for clients without their own transportation.

“Even in these most challenging times, you’re not alone. We’re a phone call away. We’re a click away,” Soderstrom said.

True North currently has 25 beds for men and women in their residential program. A handful of beds are still available for both. For more information, call 907-313-1333 or visit tnrak.org.

For more information about statewide news, efforts and resources surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, visit dhss.alaska.gov.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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