In 2008, Tina Graham, Owner and Director of Blue Sky Counseling, returned to school with the ambition of becoming a nurse. During a conversation with an advisor, she learned about addiction counseling. “It really resonated with me,” she says. “That’s exactly what I wanted to do.” Graham went on to open Blue Sky Counseling, a medication assisted treatment (MAT) program, in Waterville.
After opening the initial office in Waterville, the program quickly expanded to cover seven locations, including Waterville, Bangor, Skowhegan, Rumford, Farmington, Augusta, and Lewiston. Once they became a substance abuse licensed agency with the state of Maine, then later obtained a mental health agency license in order to provide MAT services, “We started growing very quickly,” Graham says. “To the point where we had to hire more staff, we had to get more office space. A lot of people were managing their addiction on their own without professional support, so to speak. It’s been an epidemic for decades and the expansion of services has created space for people to get that professional support that is so needed for sustainable recovery.”
One of the primary focuses of the organization is to “knock down barriers” to treatment and recovery, according to Lana Whittemore, Development Director.
Being in seven locations allows Blue Sky to address the needs of many people in central and northern Maine who might otherwise struggle to get help. “We cover a pretty large portion of the state,” Whittemore says. “Nobody in the state needs to go without services.” Telehealth appointments have also allowed many more people to have access to support and treatment. Currently the agency is using a hybrid model, incorporating both telehealth and in-person services.
All seven locations are centrally located within their communities, which also improves accessibility. Often clients are without transportation, and the central locations enable them to walk to obtain in-person services. There is currently no wait list, and often clients are able to begin treatment the same day as they apply, according to Graham. There is, however, an increasing need for services in outlying communities. Another goal of the agency, says Whittemore, is to focus on the question, “How can we do more to reach more rural communities?” Blue Sky is addressing the need in a “grassroots” manner, she says, including networking, involvement in community meetings, and distributing brochures.
Another barrier that Blue Sky works hard to eliminate is the stigma of drug addiction. All clients are treated with respect and dignity, be it during the initial intake process, or later on, in individual and group therapy. Getting families involved is also key to the recovery process. “Addiction affects the whole family system,” says Graham. “Treating families is a goal of the agency.”
“We’re still defining our program,” she adds, striving to offer consistent practices and services across all seven locations. When she was in school, a guest speaker spoke to a class she was in about the opioid epidemic in Maine. “It really opened my eyes to what was going on in the state and how it was affecting so many people,” she says. This led Graham to where she is today.
The question she continues to ask of herself and her staff is always, “How can we better enhance programming to the people we serve?”