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Archive for Sunday, March 24, 1996

S RECOVERY CENTER FACES AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

March 24, 1996

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— A recovery center for women and their children is in danger of closing because of state funding cuts.

Two of the three men Ronnita Nolan has loved are serving time in Kansas prison cells for first degree murder.

The third man repeatedly beat the Leavenworth 24-year-old when he found out she was pregnant with his child. Now he's fled to California, leaving her to bear their unborn baby alone.

Nolan started to believe that the life she led was her destiny and abuse was something she deserved. But from the time she was 13, she learned that alcohol was there to comfort her and blur unpleasant experiences.

"All my life, I have picked a certain kind of guy. When they would do things, I just felt like it was my fault -- like I had done something to deserve it," Nolan said. "Alcohol helped me escape. It made me feel better. It didn't matter if I was pregnant. It didn't matter if it made me sick."

Earlier this year, something snapped. Nolan knew she couldn't go on living this way. She decided to do something for herself, and for her tiny daughter, Raven Wimbish. She'd already drank her way through Raven's two years of life and was drinking her way through a second pregnancy, now in its fifth month.

When Nolan sought help for her alcoholism, the Women's Recovery Center in Topeka was there -- not just for her, but for her daughter, too. Since Feb. 24, she and Raven have been living at the center. Nolan has not only gotten help for her addiction but has started healing the wounds that led to it. The two will leave the center on Tuesday.

"I know now the reasons why I drank," Nolan said. "I've started to feel better about myself, and I know now I don't deserve the way I was treated. I've learned how to spot the red flags of my alcoholism and someone who is an abuser."

Healing scars

Since 1989, the Women's Recovery Center has been providing residential treatment for low-income women like Nolan. The DCCCA-run program is one of only five places around the state where women can get residential treatment for addiction and bring their children with them.

The Topeka center, the first of its kind in the state, serves many women from northeast Kansas. About 20 percent of the 1,500 women and 750 children the center has treated since it opened are from Lawrence, said Cynthia Breitenbach, program coordinator for the center.

The center offers nontraditional treatment directed specifically at women. Breitenbach said women are more likely to have been victims of child abuse, sexual abuse and other emotional scars unique to their gender that later lead to addiction.

"Women don't need to be beaten down," Breitenbach said. "Traditional treatment strips everything away and rebuilds the person. Women already have a sense of not having any personal power. We need to focus what they have and how to build on those strengths. Ninety-nine percent of our clients come from dysfunctional families where there is incest, violence, beatings or rape.

``Women use chemicals because they're in pain. Every woman who has walked through this door has talked about that pain. Until we get to the source of the pain, and deal with life experiences, we can't treat the addiction."

Dwindling funding

Since it opened, the center has operated at capacity with a waiting list, while funding has steadily decreased. From 1989 to 1995, the annual grant from the state department of Social and Rehabilitation Services Alcohol and Drug Abuse Service that is used to operate the center has decreased about 20 percent, said George Heckman, assistant director of DCCCA.

Though the state reimburses the center for day-care costs, the grant money it allocates is only for treatment of the women, not their children.

In 1993, the center was awarded a federal grant which it used to beef up services for the women and add counseling and other services for the children. Those funds were cut by 25 percent before the grant ended last year, Heckman said.

Since then, a Topeka mental health organization has been providing some services to the children at the center and billing some costs to Medicaid.

"As of yet, our funders have not yet acknowledged we have the offspring of these clients coming in our program," Breitenbach said. "We have no funding for them.''

More cuts may be in store for the center. The state is moving to a managed care system in which patients will be assessed by state officials weekly to see if they need to remain in the 30-day program. Instead of an annual grant, the center will receive a per-day amount of money, per woman they serve.

Breitenbach and other DCCCA officials fear that the center may not be able to stay afloat if they are allocated the same per-day amount for treatment costs as centers who don't house the children of those they serve. If that happens, Heckman said the center would probably have to close.

Though state officials say moving to managed care is done to ensure that people are getting only the services they need, Breitenbach said the real motive may be cutting costs. As part of the state-mandated changes, women now also have to drive to a state assessment center in Kansas City before they can enter treatment.

Breitenbach said many of the women the center serves are homeless and poor, and this is just another bureaucratic hoop to jump through before they can get help.

"It's just one more step for these women -- who have no trust to begin with -- to walk through," Breitenbach said.

Heckman said the state changes will likely result in fewer funds, which will mean that fewer women will be able to get the full 30 days of treatment. It may also mean that the center will have to offer less residential treatment and more outpatient services.

Breitenbach believes that the women, and their children, will suffer if that happens. She also said managed care may mandate that the program focus less on problems that caused a woman's addiction and just on the addiction itself.

"Most programs like this are six to nine months," she said. "I go to national conventions and talk about a 30-day program, and I get laughed at. It's lip service. They're saying 'We want programs for women and children, but by God, once they get there, you fund it.'"

Starting over

Raven Wimbish is living up to her free-wheeling name. The 2-year-old budding beauty isn't shy about sharing her opinion or telling her mother how she feels.

That's one of the best things that Nolan said has come out of her treatment.

"They've taught her how to say her feelings and make drawings about what's going on inside," Nolan said. "She's talking a lot more. She's starting to say things about what she saw happen. Having her really helps me deal with myself."

Nolan said in addition to getting help for her problems, she's also learned how to be a better parent.

She looks back on Raven's first years with a lot of regrets. There were wild parties in an unfurnished house where little food was ever around. There were strangers in and out and much witnessed violence.

But Nolan said when she gets out of treatment this week, things will be much different. Much different than the direction she was headed toward.

"I think if I wouldn't have come here, I would probably be in prison and Raven would have been taken away from me," Nolan said. "Now I have a plan. I'm going to go to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). I'm going to get a job. I'm going to get counseling. I'm going to start focusing on the positive things."

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