Executive Director Speaks From Personal Experience
Ron Springel was an emergency room doctor until his path took an unexpected detour – substance use disorder found him.
He made his way to recovery through treatment at the Betty Ford Clinic in 1984. “I was there between Elizabeth Taylor and Tony Curtis,” he said jokingly.
Former First Lady Betty Ford recommended that Ron continue his recovery in Yakima, Washington, to experience sober living, but the idea of living with “those people” terrified him. He said to Mrs. Ford, “But Betty, those places are filled with convicts and drug addicts.”
“Yes,” she replied, you’ll fit in perfectly!”
His tenure at the James Oldham Recovery House lasted more than the original planned 60-day stay. Before long, he was a manager and transferred to a small apartment over the social model “detox.” There he learned how compassion and support could make a real difference in people’s lives. “Without these experiences,” he said, “I would never have found the North Star that guides me today.”
Today, Ron serves as executive director of the Maine Association of Recovery Residences (MARR). He, along with Brittany Reichmann, Program Manager and Madison Weymouth, Assistant Program Manager, MARR manages ethical and safety standards for recovery residences in Maine and certifies residences based on the standards created by the National Alliance for Recovery Residences (NARR).
“The very first question you should ask when looking for a recovery home is, ‘Is it MARR-certified?’” Ron said, explaining that the certification means a residence meets criteria for offering people in recovery a structurally sound and safe home. MARR conducts safety inspections for risks like fire and carbon monoxide but also assures compliance with the NARR code of ethics, which makes sure the property’s operator and staff are placing each resident’s recovery in the forefront.
The code of ethics has 20 principles, including providing a safe, homelike environment that meets NARR standards, maintaining an alcohol and illicit drug-free environment, and addressing each resident fairly in all situations. (See complete list on page 12.)
The state does not require recovery homes to be certified. However, only MARR-certified residences can apply for funding through the Maine State Housing Authority or federal funds, including HUD grants; and only MARR Certified Recovery Residences are eligible for General Assistance housing support.
MARR makes sure everyone is on equal ground when a resident raises a grievance with an operator, providing grievance facilitators who act as mediators. The grievance facilitator helps resolve disputes through a neutral, independent point of view. “For the most part, it is very successful to have a facilitator intervene,” said Ron.
Staff members typically inspect 70 to 80 houses each year. Once a residence receives certification, MARR inspects annually to ensure MARR/NARR standards are being maintained.
“In each inspection, we ask residents questions related to Narcan. Maine state law requires every recovery residence to have Narcan on hand. MARR requires Narcan training, as well. The question we ask is, ‘What would you do if you found someone on the bathroom floor?’ The answer is to look for Narcan and call 911, and administer it.” said Ron. “Virtually everyone knows now through the required training. There are overdoses, but we average about one reverse overdose a month; and one fatality a year. Non-certified residences have dozens.”
Ron is enthusiastic about a new program at MARR — the Bed Scholarship Fund. This fund helps people in early recovery who cannot afford to pay the first month’s rental fees for admission to a certified recovery residence. “We self-funded the BSF and quickly blew through the funding,” said Ron. “So, we know the need is great. We decided to host a fundraiser specifically funding BSF.”
The fundraiser is a three-day film festival, the New England REEL Recovery Film Festival, that will happen June 23-25 at Hannaford Hall at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. The weekend will include recovery-related films, networking, and raising funds towards the organization’s $25,000 goal.
MARR believes that all people seeking recovery-based housing should have access to both a safe and accommodating residence where they can live a healthy and rewarding life.
For more information, visit www.mainerecoveryresidences.com.
First-in-Nation Program Encourages Residents to Look Out for Each Other
Mainers have access to several harm reduction and overdose prevention programs, and the Maine Association of Recovery Residences (MARR) has added another to the list. MARR’s Safety and Wellness Program draws on years of experience in the harm reduction community and public health research to create an innovative peer-based overdose prevention program in MARR certified residences.
“We know that peer support is critical for people in early recovery, and we coupled that with peer education about overdose risks, naloxone distribution, and community resources for people when they first arrive in a house,” said Zoe Brokos, a harm reduction specialist who was instrumental in getting the program up and running. Brokos worked with MARR Board members, addiction medicine specialists, recovery researchers and harm reductionists to develop this innovative program – the first in the nation. The program is funded by grants from the Pew Trust and Maine Health Access Foundation.
Peter Rosasco, the program’s coordinator, explained that “the program creates a community response to overdose prevention, using peers living in the house to help a new resident assess their own overdose risk, provide naloxone training, and offer peer support on day one. The resident knows immediately that there’s a caring community ready to support them through difficult times.”
New residents in recovery houses may be at risk for opioid overdose, especially if they’ve recently left incarceration or treatment. Life stressors like finding a job or coping with breaks in family ties or loss of a loved one can also create a risk for recurrence of use. This is why new residents need to know about their own risks for overdose, the availability of naloxone and community resources, and the support and connection they will find among the house residents. It’s also why everyone in the house needs to know how to respond to overdose.
“A recurrence of use also impacts the community of residents, and fatal and nonfatal overdoses can be extremely distressing,” explained Dr. Ronald Springel, MARR’s executive director. That’s why the S&W Program also provides grief support and follow-up if an overdose does happen, as well as monthly training on topics like resilience and up-to-date data on county and state overdoses.
“In this situation, knowledge is power, and we want house residents to know as much as they possibly can to prevent an overdose.”
Developing the S&W Program also included revamping MARR’s website to include a recovery residence locator tool. Anyone can go to the site and search for a MARR-certified residence by facility name, location, and whether it is for men or women, offers a faith-based path of recovery or accepts individuals on medications for addiction.