Upper Bay Counseling offers new addiction services
— Upper Bay Counseling and Support Services recently unveiled a new set of outpatient services that seek to help address the county’s growing substance abuse issues.
Upper Bay, historically a nonprofit that offers mental health treatment, began to explore the possibilities of substance abuse treatment over the past few years through its programming aimed at co-occurring disorders, or those who have both a substance abuse and mental health disorder.
Its offerings in sole substance abuse disorders began Oct. 1, however, after staff worked to obtain proper licensing, said Becky Kiersznowski, director of co-occurring and addiction services at Upper Bay.
“The really great thing about this program is that now when you enter our doors, we can serve you no matter what,” she said, noting that if a patient only had a substance abuse disorder previously, Upper Bay had to direct them to the county health department or other providers for treatment. “With integrated care, we can work with the patient entirely under one roof, which is best practice.”
The program, located at Upper Bay’s Elkton office at 200 Booth St., offers outpatient counseling, tiered to differing levels of intensity, that will each run about eight weeks on average, Kiersznowski explained.
Under the lower tier of care, a patient would be assessed and then meet with a counselor about once a week or once every two weeks to discuss their treatment plan. In the higher level — aimed at patients who have a greater difficulty remaining sober — patients would meet three times a week for three-hour group
counseling sessions and once a week for one-on-one counseling. Kiersznowski also said that in the intensive outpatient program, counselors would also try to meet with family members who could aid the patient in their recovery.
Kiersznowski said she believes Upper Bay’s program could serve those who are not good fits at 12-step programs. Unlike “old-school” addiction doctrine, Upper Bay operates on a belief of “harm reduction,” or that people don’t necessarily have to be 100 percent substance free to be in recovery. While she is a strong proponent of 12-step programs, not everyone is made for that formula, Kiersznowski said.
“The goal really is to help people get to a better place,” she said, noting previous patients have successfully stopped using “hard” drugs, although they may continue to drink socially or use an assistance drug, such as suboxone. “No. 1 so they don’t die and No. 2 so they can have a better quality of life. So is 100 percent sobriety an end goal? For some people it is and some people it isn’t.”
Upper Bay has discussed receiving referrals from Union Hospital, the Cecil County Health Department and suboxone prescribers along with its word of mouth traffic, Kiersznowski said. Currently, the nonprofit is not receiving court-appointed referrals, but the possibility exists to do so in the future, she added.
Upper Bay has currently hired one counselor to run the programs, with up to 15 patients allowed to the higher tier program and 30 patients per week allowed to the lower tier, under state regulations. Kiersznowski hopes to expand with need, but she noted that state regulations will also make that undertaking difficulty.
Upper Bay — like many other counseling centers — is struggling to contend with state changes to the licensing of drug and alcohol counselors. Several years ago, Maryland chose to forgo the internationally recognized credentialing that many other states use in favor of its own standards reviewed by the Board of Professional Counselors and Therapists.
“It’s a huge issue,” she said, noting many other providers voice the same concerns during meetings of the Cecil County Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council. “We have people dying and everyone says we need more treatment, but we can’t provide treatment because we can’t hire staff who we know are competent.”
Kiersznowski noted that the changes even affected her, although she has decades of experience.
“I have many different licenses, but when I applied to Maryland, they require licensees to take several different college and graduate level courses on drug and alcohol counseling,” she said. “But when I went to college, those courses didn’t exist. Meanwhile I have tons of continuing education credits and training hours, and have passed the national exams.”
As further evidence of the flawed system, Kiersznowski said she was able to obtain a state supervisor’s license with her current experience. That meant that while she could not counsel patients personally, she could supervise the training of and recommend approval of such counselors.
But as Kiersznowski explored fulfilling the needed requirements, Maryland expanded the breadth of drug and alcohol counseling licensing to those with mental health counseling licenses — something she already holds — on Oct. 1.
While the addictions services program just began at Upper Bay, the nonprofit already has eyes on the future: it wants to open a third location in Cecilton to offer addictions ser vices.
“There’s a need down there and there’s no one down there aside from Dr. ( Paul) Katz,” Kiersznowski said.
Becky Kiersznowski, director of co-occurring and addiction services at Upper Bay Counseling and Support Services, recently announced a new set of outpatient services that seek to help address the county’s growing substance abuse issues.