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'This is an essential program': why the Abbey Addiction Treatment Center says staying open is crucial

Health officials are asking us to social distance and isolate in the time of Covid-19. But the Abbey says isolation is an addict's worst fear.

BETTENDORF, Iowa — The Abbey Addiction Treatment Center in Bettendorf has implemented changes to remain open throughout the pandemic. They say it's more important than ever to keep their clients connected, as isolation is often an addict's biggest fear. 

"Ever since Covid hit, we realized we were an essential business," said Joe Lemon, Program Founder at the Abbey. "Meaning, addiction hasn't gone away. So we need to stay in the community to be available to help people." 

Many health experts have recommending social distancing and necessary quarantines during the pandemic. But Karen Relf, Program Director at the Abbey, says, "probably the worst thing we can ask suffering alcoholics and addicts to do is isolate and stay away from people." 

Instead, as stay-at-home orders have swept across the country over the past few months, she says the center has seen an increase clients' need for treatment. 

They've remained open to the best of their abilities, but there have been changes put in place. 

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Staff are regularly screened for their health, and closely monitored for any symptoms. Visiting hours are now limited, and routine cleanings take place at the Abbey. And out-patient treatment options are no longer available at this time, meaning all patients must live at the center full-time until their program is complete. 

"We've got a ten foot wall that surrounds the property, we feel protected, our neighbors feel protected. It gives us that safe environment to continue to work with clients and with their families," said Lemon.

Maria Baldwin, the center's Admissions Coordinator, agreed, likening the in-patient treatment to a safety bubble - from both triggers and Covid-19. 

"Everyone's been safe and healthy and sheltering in place when they're with us," she said. 

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So far, the center has not seen any Covid-19 cases among any staff or patient. 

While there is no way to tell when the pandemic will be over, Relf says the center is committed to staying open as long as they can. 

"This is an essential program. It's just as critical as a hospital. It's just as critical as a doctors office is." 

She says she's seen more people turning to alcohol and drugs to deal with stressors brought on by the pandemic. 

"People are losing sleep, they're losing jobs, they're being financially ruined... so how can you blame them," she asks. "Daily we're getting phone calls from people saying 'I'm isolated and I don't know what to do.'" 

Hi All, we continue to admit RESIDENTIAL clients for our treatment services (after performing an enhanced assessment to...

Posted by The Abbey Center on Thursday, April 2, 2020

Bladwin added that many who are in recovery find they need connection to others the most. 

"When this first hit, everyone was told to stay home, to isolate, to not interact with others. And that goes against everything people are told to do to stay healthy." 

She added that transitioning into all of the Covid-necessary changes at the Abbey has been challenging, but ultimately worth it. She compared it to a 'safety bubble of recovery,' where people can focus on overcoming their illness while they're surrounded by support - free of worry over the pandemic. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, the Abbey is currently accepting new clients for their in-patient program. You can contact them on their website, or call (563) 355-4707.