GAAMHA opens new Athol facility for women with substance abuse, mental health disorders

Liz Beach, program director at Sunrise Ridge in Athol, walks through the facility, which has space for 32 patients. Sunrise Ridge works with women with substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Liz Beach, program director at Sunrise Ridge in Athol, walks through the facility, which has space for 32 patients. Sunrise Ridge works with women with substance abuse and mental health disorders. STAFF PHOTO/MAX BOWEN

One of the beds at Sunrise Ridge. Currently, the new facility has four patients, but more are expected soon.

One of the beds at Sunrise Ridge. Currently, the new facility has four patients, but more are expected soon. STAFF PHOTO/MAX BOWEN

From left, Sabrina Silva and James Winget work on fixing meals at Sunrise Ridge.

From left, Sabrina Silva and James Winget work on fixing meals at Sunrise Ridge. STAFF PHOTO/MAX BOWEN

Sunrise Ridge at 648 Pleasant St. in Athol is a 32-bed facility for women battling substance abuse and mental health disorders.

Sunrise Ridge at 648 Pleasant St. in Athol is a 32-bed facility for women battling substance abuse and mental health disorders. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By MAX BOWEN

Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 03-31-2024 11:45 AM

Modified: 03-31-2024 12:23 PM


ATHOL — Seeking to address a lack of resources for women battling with substance abuse and mental health disorders, Gardner-based GAAMHA has opened a new facility in Athol called Sunrise Ridge.

The 32-bed residential treatment facility at 648 Pleasant St., which opened in late February, is for women diagnosed with co-occurring substance abuse and mental health disorders, according to GAAMHA Vice President Shawn Hayden. He added that four of the beds will be set aside for women who are pregnant or up to one year postpartum seeking recovery services, which he said was a first for the nonprofit.

“They have a hard time accessing treatment because of their complex situation with the pregnancy,” Hayden said.

Women who complete the program will have access to GAAMHA’s Supportive Housing program with sites in Gardner, Athol and Greenfield.

There is a strong need for this kind of facility, said Hayden, adding that resources for women dealing with these problems are often limited. At this time, there are four patients at Sunrise Ridge, but more are expected in the near future.

“It’s always been that way,” Hayden said. “It used to be worse, frankly. Now, there are more women’s beds than there were before, but they’re still pretty disparate.”

Liz Beach, program director at Sunrise Ridge, said many of the patients come in with trauma or mental health issues or are experiencing domestic violence or sexual abuse. Beach came to Sunrise Ridge with more than 30 years of experience in the field, working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, parole departments and as a substance abuse coordinator.

“We’re gonna work with you to look at the issues that you’ve been self-medicating,” Beach said.

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Each day at Sunrise Ridge is carefully scheduled, with a morning check-in, chores, group discussions and meeting with counselors. Facility staff also take care of scheduling appointments with doctors as needed.

Hayden said there is criteria to meet for those who wish to come to Sunrise Ridge, including having been diagnosed with a substance abuse and mental health disorder, having been in an inpatient psychiatric program for 90 days or having tried to access emergency support services twice in the last 90 days. Hayden said another criteria that most fit is they have tried traditional addiction treatment programs without success.

One element that Hayden cited of the Athol facility is the staff on hand, which include clinicians, nurse practitioners and recovery specialists. Treatment plans can range from 90 days to a full year.

“So really, we’re looking at a lot of one-on-one attention to people, which is a huge difference,” he said. “You’re not just a face in the crowd.”

In addition to treatment programs, Hayden said the staff at Sunrise Ridge will help with other related matters, such as coordinating with the Department of Children and Families, making sure patients are up to date on their taxes and helping to build a budget for when they leave.

Michelle Dunn, who oversees all operations at Sunrise Ridge, said that the North Quabbin area has been historically underserved for these matters, which she added is a common problem for rural communities.

Beach added that those in the program experience a sense of camaraderie, such as when they talk about what their counselor told them.

“There is that bonding, they’re going to meetings together, you can see the little lights go on,” Beach said. “So it is a bonding experience, because most come in with no support system.”

Jill, a patient at Sunrise Ridge, said she had been at the facility for two weeks and was battling an addiction to crack cocaine. Prior to coming to Sunrise Ridge she had been at Washburn House in Worcester. Before that, Jill said she left Massachusetts to go to Camden, New Jersey.

“I didn’t want anyone to find me,” she said.

At Sunrise Ridge, Jill is learning anger management and coping skills, as she puts it, “a lot of tools in the tool kit.” After her treatment ends, she hopes to get a place of her own and continue her treatment.

“It’s really good,” she said of Sunrise Ridge. “I love it here.”

For more information on programs at GAAMHA, visit gaamha.org.

Max Bowen can be reached at mbowen@atholdailynews.com or 413-930-4074.