Health & Education
Tribe preparing to open two medication-assisted treatment centers in 2021
By Danielle Harrison
Smoke Signals staff writer
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde is preparing to open two medication-assisted treatment facilities this year, the first Tribally owned and operated programs in the state to combat opioid addiction.
In December, Portland resident Jennifer Worth was hired as the Operations Director for both clinics.
“I’m really excited just to be able to be of service to the community and helping others,” Worth says. “What is really exciting about these clinics is that we will also be able to offer spiritual and cultural aspects as well as medication-assisted therapy.”
Worth has a master’s degree in social work from Portland State University and several years of experience working as a health care consultant across the state, including assisting with opening a medication-assisted treatment facility in Seaside.
“What spurred me to accept this job with the Tribe was the sense of community and connection I feel here,” she says.
Health Services Executive Director Kelly Rowe says Worth’s main priorities will be effective operations management and services.
“(She will) ensure the MAT program services are responsive to Tribal and community needs, are the highest quality of care, and in compliance with all state, local and federal regulations, and that they contribute to the Tribe’s holistic health and wellness objectives for patients and families.”
The Tribe began looking into offering medicated-assisted treatment in the wake of the opioid crisis that swept through the United States beginning in the early 2000s. The crisis led to millions of people with addiction problems, some of whom were not helped by traditional abstinence-based, 12-step programs.
A recent project update on the Tribe’s website describes why it is pursuing these efforts.
“Medication-assisted treatment is one of the most effective forms of treatment for substance abuse because it combines behavioral therapy with carefully managed medications,” it states. “For the past year, the Tribe has been exploring ways to expand its current health services to include medication-assisted treatment options to Tribal and nonTribal clients. The Tribe has acquired two different properties, one in Portland and one in Salem, so it can bring these services to fruition.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, Native communities have been deeply affected by the opioid crisis, and many have been overwhelmed by opioid overdoses, deaths and a strained health care system. This has led to some communities offering a two-tiered treatment approach, which includes a culturally-centered aspect combined with medication.
In December 2018, Eric Martin, a nationally certified addictions counselor, spoke during a community meeting at the Tribal campus about the benefits of medication-assisted treatment for those struggling with opioid use disorder.
Many opioid-dependent people drop out within 72 hours of starting an abstinence-based recovery program due to the severity of withdrawal symptoms, he said.
“That is why we have methadone and suboxone,” Martin said. “These medication programs were started because the counselors couldn’t get them to stay in a program.”
With that in mind, the Health & Wellness Center launched a medication-assisted treatment program in Grand Ronde, but also wanted to expand its health services to the two largest metropolitan areas in Oregon: Portland and Salem.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic required a major pivot, medication-assisted treatment for Tribal members in the metropolitan area remained a goal of the Tribe’s Health & Wellness Center in 2020.
The Tribe closed on the Salem property at 1011 Commercial Street N.E. in May 2020, according to the Marion County Assessor’s Office property records. The purchase price was listed as $5,556,740 and includes a 29,246-square-foot, two-story office building and parking lot.
The Tribe closed on the Portland property at 3580 S.E. 82nd Ave. in July 2020. The 20,000-square-foot lot includes a former dental office and parking lot, and is located west of Interstate 205 and southeast of Mount Tabor Park. The purchase price was $1.4 million.
Both buildings are currently being renovated and updated, and also must undergo various licensing requirements through the state of Oregon. When completed, the clinics will be the first Tribally operated medication-assisted treatment centers in the state. The Salem clinic is expected to open before spring arrives with a tentative date of sometime this summer for the Portland location.
The Salem facility will eventually include an urgent care clinic for clients who come in with other medical needs, as well as a small pharmacy.
“I’m just excited to see a building that came from nothing to this,” Worth says. “Doing so during a pandemic adds another layer with supplies arriving on time.”
Worth has reached out to the local nonprofits and other organizations to let them know about the program.
“But when word gets out that you will be opening a medication-assisted treatment facility, people come to you,” she says.
Staff hired for the Salem clinic include medical, behavioral health, administrative and management employees. They began remote training on Jan. 11 with the goal to be onsite by Jan. 19.
“We have invited several community partners to present remotely or in person about their programs, and (for us) to share our program overview as well,” Worth says. “I want to build a culture of empathy on our team and work at getting our foundation built up, refining services and practices, and working through all of the different rules and regulations.”
Recently, Worth was at the Salem location meeting with the Tribe’s Information Systems staff members for setup and configuration of computer and phone services. She compared opening the clinic to her favorite hobby, ultra-trail running where participants often traverse terrain for more than 50 miles to finish an event.
“There are things that can come at you all at once, but you hit a certain point where you just need to keep your head up and continue moving forward,” she says.
For more information about the medication-assisted treatment clinics, contact Worth at Jennifer.firstname.lastname@example.org.