By PAUL MARYNIAK, GSN Executive Editor
It wasn’t just the abuse of substances they saw that led Jim and Michelle Sarina of Gilbert and their daughter Katherine to open Ahwatukee Health and Recovery, the community’s first addiction treatment center.
It was also the abuses Katherine saw in the addiction treatment industry as well.
As Katherine explained, her mother “saw the issues spurring from substance abuse while managing her two apartment complexes in Tempe from college students dangerously using alcohol and party drugs to chronic substance abuse of methamphetamines and heroin throughout multiple generations in families.”
Katherine herself, meanwhile, said she “saw a lot of fraudulent behavior that harmed patients driven by financial motives while working in California” and “wanted to create a transparent program that was completely focused on individualized patient care” and a “program that would actually give patients the tools necessary to gain and maintain sobriety and have a better life.
“We do not want everyone to just be sober and miserable,” she explained. “We want to help them achieve their goals of sobriety and find happiness in their new life.”
This is not the first business Jim and Michelle have started.
A real estate agent for residential properties who manages two apartment complexes in Tempe and two medical offices in Mesa and Ahwatukee, Michelle in 2003 founded with Jim a company, SEAIT, that provides satellite engineering support to companies and is currently under contract with NASA to support next-generation weather satellites.
Katherine, who holds a degree in psychology from the University of Southern California, has worked in behavioral health for the last four years and has supported hundreds of patients with substance use disorders in different levels of care, from detox to residential treatment to routine outpatient as a case manager, intake specialist and utilization review specialist.
Originally, her parents had bought their building at 6515 S. 40th St. to set up a primary care medical practice, but they changed their mind and opened the addiction treatment center when they saw a genuine need in Ahwatukee.
“Ahwatukee is one of the more affluent neighborhoods in the East Valley area, but addiction does not discriminate based on socioeconomic status or location,” said Katherine, who is the office’s practice manager and handles day-to-day affairs. “We found that there was not a treatment center in the area that provided medication-assisted treatment and counseling at the same location and wanted to give that service to the community.”
So Katherine spent part of the year writing the 600+ pages of policies and procedures to make the practice compliant with the Arizona Department of Health Services and Arizona law.
They hired their medical doctor, Dr. Daniel Pacheco, who also has a master’s degree in counseling psychology, to oversee outpatient detox and medication-assisted treatment and got Samantha Higgins on board to oversee all clinical programs for both general and substance abuse counseling.
In addition to its medical and clinical programs for substance addiction, Ahwatukee Health and Recovery also has opened a general counseling program for people dealing with grief/loss, depression, anxiety, trauma and interpersonal relationship issues.
“We had many people reach out looking for a general counselor and we realized general counseling was a service needed in the area,” Katherine said. “People were asking to be admitted despite not having a substance use disorder, so we opened up a broader program to address the needs of the community.”
While the center does not provide in-patient treatment, it can refer clients to such facilities if needed. Before the best course of action can be determined, Katherine noted, a thorough assessment of the patient’s condition and their personal circumstances is conducted.
“Generally, addiction disorders that are best served initially with inpatient treatment are alcohol dependence and benzodiazepine dependence,” said Pacheco. “These addictions can cause severe medical complications such as seizures if not treated with appropriate medications and close medical monitoring. All other addictions, such as opioid, methamphetamine, etc. can be safely treated as outpatient.”
Added Katherine: “Outpatient therapy is more cost effective and normally has longer program time frames to address behavioral change.”
Moreover, she said, intensive outpatient programs “are as effective as inpatient treatment for most individuals seeking care.”
The center also has started a weekly prayer session 7-8 p.m. on Thursdays that is free and open to the public.
The center also is creating a program geared towards active military and veterans.
“Military and veteran life can be very different than civilian life; our counselor, Ms. Higgins, understands the nuances of military life, as she has been a military spouse for the past 10 years and her husband is still serving in the United States Air Force,” Katherine said.
In addition, an intern, Audra Young LASAC, who will be joining the clinical team as a licensed associate substance abuse counselor in November, served in the Marine Corps for nearly 10 years as an air traffic controller.
Katherine said the practice has other plans as well.
“We want to be an assessed and trusted source of information in the community, we plan to host educational seminars on substance abuse and mental health,” she explained. “We want to engage and educate each community member even if they are not personally experiencing addiction themselves.
Information: 480-272-8450, Ahwatukeehealthcare.org