NVRH Granted Large Sum To Confront Drug, Alcohol, Tobacco Concerns

Tracy and Maggie Zschau, of St. Johnsbury, walk near the NVRH sign carrying large hearts on Wednesday, April 1, 2020. Ray and Diane Cummings organized a group of people to place the hearts on trees as a gesture of gratitude to hospital staff. (Photo by Dana Gray)

Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital secured a large grant award to address substance “misuse.”

The $450,000 award, called the Vermont Prevention Center of Excellence’s Grant, was announced on Thursday by NVRH. Information provided by the hospital notes, “This grant is a one-year grant opportunity with goals to reduce underage drinking, high-risk alcohol consumption, marijuana and tobacco misuse, prescription drug and stimulant misuse, and illicit stimulants and opioids.”

Cheryl Chandler, NVRH director of Substance Misuse Prevention, said the word “misuse” to describe a harmful use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco is preferred to “abuse,” which she said can be used to stigmatize the user.

Goals of the grant-funded effort are to promote healthy lifestyles and reduce the risks associated with the use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs and to reduce the impact to those at higher-than-average risk for substance misuse.

“Vermont traditionally has had some of the highest rates of substance misuse in the country, and the Northeast Kingdom is no exception,” said Chandler. “This funding will enable us bring together a larger group of community partners to develop a comprehensive approach to substance misuse prevention in the Northeast Kingdom.”

Umbrella is partnering with NVRH in the implementation of the grant goals.

“This grant program will lift up and support work happening around the Kingdom related to substance misuse and pave the way for more capacity for prevention down the road,” said Amanda Cochrane, executive director for Umbrella.

Umbrella provides prevention-based programming geared at ending domestic and sexual violence and has recently developed a more holistic approach to prevention that includes working to prevent substance misuse as well as tobacco use.

Chandler described the grant as both a big opportunity and a big responsibility. The funds need to be satisfactorily applied in just one year. A good portion of the grant — $200,000 — will be shared with groups in the community involved in confronting the issue of substance misuse. Chandler said Requests for Proposal will soon be going out to identify community partners who can effectively use a portion of the grant funds.

“This is a unique opportunity … to support others in their efforts to reduce substance use disorder throughout the entire Northeast Kingdom and Wells River,” said Chandler.

Money will also be spent on the creation of a central data system for the Kingdom related to prevention needs and outreach. Chandler said a unified data system will help partners determine areas of need, as well as identify any current redundancy in programming.

“The best way to prevent substance misuse is to review data to identify existing conditions that either promote risk or protect from risk, assess a community’s readiness and capacity to address the conditions, and then identify strategies and programs,” noted information provided by Katie Moritz, NVRH Marketing & Communications coordinator.

Said Chandler, “We’ll be able to take an inventory of what is happening in the NEK; where there are gaps; make sure there’s no duplication of efforts.”

Several people form a committee to assist the planning and implementation of grant-funded initiatives. The skills and experiences of the committee people vary as they represent multiple sectors within Northeast Kingdom communities.

Steering committee members are: Lila Bennett, executive director, Journey to Recovery Community Center; Susan Cherry, executive director, Community Restorative Justice Center; Michael Costa, CEO, Northern Counties Health Care, Inc.; Lon Davis, Catamount Arts Open Stage Program; Karen E. Geraghty, Economic Development specialist, Northeastern Vermont Development Association; Sheriff Jennifer L. Harlow, Orleans County Sheriff’s Department; Jim Kisch, CEO, president, Passumpsic Savings Bank; Suzanne Legare-Belcher, Field Services director, Newport and St. Johnsbury districts, Vermont Agency of Human Services; Laurna Noyes, ECSD, Deputy/SIU/Office administrator, Essex County Sheriff’s Department; Chantelle Paradise, recovery coach, Kingdom Recovery Center; and Samantha Stevens, M. Ed., Equity and Community Outreach coordinator, North Country Supervisory Union.

While several of the committee members are engaged more directly with people experiencing difficulty with substances, Chandler said other voices are necessary.

She said next steps in the grant utilization process include developing a work plan and convening the committee. The key to the effectiveness of the grant-funded endeavors, she said, is “making sure that we’re putting our efforts in area that make sense.”

NVRH CEO Shawn Tester said the grant funds provide a significant opportunity for the region to address substance concerns.

“We’re grateful that the Vermont Department of Health Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Programs and the Agency of Human Services chose us to be the recipient of this grant,” he said. “When it comes to tackling prevention work in our community, this grant will allow us to continue our work upstream and really make a difference.”

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