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Coronavirus Forces Changes To Drug Treatment And Recovery In Northeast Ohio

Stella Maris director Daniel Lettenberger-Klein listens at a meeting with state officials and others in 2019. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]
Stella Maris director Daniel Lettenberger-Klein listens at a meeting with state officials and others in 2019.

Stella Maris, a drug treatment center on Cleveland’s West Side, hosts numerous in-person meetings each week, as clients consult with caregivers and attend group sessions with others in recovery.

The coronavirus has changed that, forcing the treatment facility’s staff to rewire their services on the fly.

The center shut down its campus to outside visitors two weeks ago and now offers phone- and video-based outpatient care, Executive Director Daniel Lettenberger-Klein said.

“It’s taken a lot of creativity and collaboration between clients and staff,” he said.  

Stella Maris set up computer stations in its housing facilities so on-campus clients can talk with counselors remotely, Lettenberger-Klein said. Clients who live on their own are able to join sessions by phone or videoconference.

The treatment center was able to pull this off with help virtual conferencing company GoToMeeting, which offered Stella Maris 90 days of free service.

Still, Stella Maris has had to scale back some services. It can only offer detox for 12 people at a time, rather than the usual 20 — a move meant to put more distance between patients.

“In the midst of a pandemic, we have a horrendous opiate epidemic still going on,” Lettenberger-Klein said. “People didn’t just stop using. It means that there’s less access to care.”

The center has been screening all incoming detox patients and no cases of COVID-19 have been reported on campus, Stella Maris leaders said.

Stella Maris’ housing units are at full capacity, but residents — like so many other Ohioans — are hunkered down to wait out the pandemic and help slow its spread, Lettenberger-Klein said. A number of them have recently lost jobs.  

“Most clients that we have, 90 percent are at or below the poverty line, and many of them are from homeless services,” he said. “As part of reentry and in our supportive housing, their expectation is to have a job. So that’s been waived for the time being, and we’re just keeping people safe.”

Like so many other businesses and non-profits, Stella Maris itself has taken a financial hit during the crisis, he said, but has not laid off workers. The center applied for assistance from the COVID-19 rapid-response fund set up by Northeast Ohio’s philanthropic groups.

“We’re fortunate enough to have some reserves to weather a storm short term,” Lettenberger-Klein said. “We can’t keep everybody employed for months on end doing this, but we need to take care of the people who take care of our people.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.