A new start: Addiction recovery center for pregnant and expectant mothers opens

An addiction recovery center for pregnant women and new mothers built inside a renovated post office building in downtown Columbus has opened and received its first residents.

After several months of delays due to the pandemic, the Fresh Start Recovery Center, located at 703 Washington St., officially opened Oct. 5, and its first residents moved in the following day, said Wendy Haag, the facility’s program director.

The recovery center provides treatment for mothers with children ages 5 years or younger, pregnant women and women returning from incarceration who are struggling with substance use disorder.

The facility is operated by Volunteers of America, a national, nonprofit, faith-based organization dedicated to helping those in need rebuild their lives, according to the organization’s website.

As of last week, there were five women living at the facility, one of whom with a child, Haag said. An additional three women were slated to move in this week.

So far, everything is going smoothly, Haag said.

“Our goal is to try to fill it up by the end of the month,” Haag said. “Under COVID restrictions, we can hold 15 ladies and 12 children, and once COVID restrictions are lifted, we can house on 25 ladies.”

The 22,500-square-foot limestone building was once utilized by the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., but more recently, it has been known as the LHP Guest House.

The first floor of the renovated facility now has four resident rooms, a child watch room, an intake room, a common area, a group meeting room and offices for the on-site therapist, case manager and medical assistant, Haag said.

There are an additional seven resident rooms in the basement and the second floor contains administrative offices and a conference room.

The residents receive group therapy addressing trauma and other issues they may be experience, attend daily parenting classes and have basic skills sessions that include topics like how to balance a budget, apply for a job and other skills the residents will need before they leave, Haag said.

Residents also can receive medication-assisted treatment at the facility if necessary.

Haag described the final few months before opening as “a little bit of a roller coaster.”

Volunteers of America had initially planned to open the facility the first week of April, but had to postpone their plans as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country.

Instead, the facility offered to temporarily house health care workers who were treating patients with COVID-19 to protect their families and loved ones from exposure.

No Columbus Regional Health staff members ended up needing to use the facility, said CRH spokeswoman Kelsey DeClue.

“Of course, we are incredibly appreciative of the partnership with Volunteers of America and their generosity to offer the property while it was not in use for Fresh Start,” DeClue said. “We are elated to see the true purpose for this facility to be moving forward to fulfill what it was intended for.”

In August 2018, Volunteers of America announced it had purchased the building at 703 Washington St. to house the treatment center.

The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority financed the $875,000 purchase as part of a $1.2 million loan that will also pay for renovation costs.

An additional $200,000 in funding was provided by the Columbus Regional Health Foundation, while program services will be funded by the Department of Child Services. The Indiana State Department of Health also provides funding for pregnant women who don’t have an open child services case.

The newly opened facility is the latest in a series of efforts in the Columbus community to expand recovery housing and treatment options, with several recovery housing and sober living transitional homes opening this year, or in the works.

It also comes as local officials attempt to counter a rise in fatal drug overdoses in the community and a surge in relapses. There were at least 23 fatal drug overdoses in Bartholomew County from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 compared to 24 overdose deaths during all of 2019, according to the Bartholomew County Coroner’s Office.

In January, officials at the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress said the lack of available recovery housing in Bartholomew County was a significant gap in the county-wide effort to help people overcome substance use disorder.

Before this year, the closest recovery housing for Bartholomew County women was in Monroe County, and the closest recovery housing for men was in Jennings County, ASAP officials said.

Last month, ASAP opened a 1,734-square-foot house, located in the Lincoln-Central Neighborhood in Columbus, and initially plans to house four male residents.

In August, Centerstone opened a 4,519-square-foot recovery home at 1680 Whitney Court on the north side of Columbus that is expected to house up to 12 men.

In February, a former church parsonage in Columbus transformed into a recovery home for men opened. The facility, called the Chain Breaker House, 1218 California St., can house up to six men.

“The idea that we could have seven or so homes by the end of the year was just a dream on Jan. 1,” ASAP Executive Director Doug Leonard told The Republic last month. “Now we’re seeing it almost fully realized.”