Emotions Run High as Community Meeting Held About Potential Recovery Clinic Move
By Joe Morey News Editor
A meeting, organized by LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) member Glenda Barber, was held on March 2 at the Sevenwinds Convention Center to address differing information that had been circulating in the community for several months.
At issue was the proposed idea to relocate the Bizhiki Wellness Center to the current LCO Community Health Center, in return, moving the clinic administration team to the Center.
The Bizhiki Wellness Center houses the Behavioral Health Department, Comprehensive Community Services (CCS), and the Recovery Clinic.
Concerned citizens were expressing that they didn’t want any part of the Bizhiki services to be moved, mainly because of the privacy that Bizhiki offers its clients rather than the more public setting of the main clinic.
Over the course of the last several months, it had appeared that the move wasn’t going to happen, and this was under directive of the TGB, but then, just before this March 2 meeting was called, the LCO Health Center Director, Gary Girard, sent out an email to staff that only the Recovery Clinic would be moved over the main clinic.
This set off some outrage among the staff and community members, thus, Barber called the meeting in hopes that the issue could be solved. Attending the meeting were concerned citizens, staff members of the Bizhiki Wellness Center and the main LCO Health Center, and LCO Tribal Governing Board (TGB) members.
“There’s been a lot of fighting. There’s depression, oppression, rumors and hateful feelings,” Barber stated. “We have to let the hard feelings go so we can work together and make this program work for everybody.”
Barber told all the attendees that they could speak freely and they wouldn’t face any repercussions.
Diane Sullivan of the Bizhiki staff was the first to speak. She said she works with substance abuse in the Recovery Clinic and has worked in the field for 37 years, but that she was also speaking as a concerned citizen and someone who loves a person who is addicted.
“I moved back to the area after being away for 5 years and I started working in the clinic in August,” Sullivan explained. “I said to myself, the Tribe finally got it right. I’ve never seen it before, Behavioral Health and Recovery Clinic, all of it together. But then, in only a few weeks the wheels fell off. I got an email of how we were moving out of the Bizhiki Center and going over to the clinic.”
Sullivan went on to say she didn’t care where she worked out of, stating she had started out in a basement in the old clinic.
“I care about the people we are serving,” Sullivan said. She said some members of the TGB were on the Board when the old Chippewa Woodcrafters building was rehabbed for the Bizhiki programs and the reason was because people didn’t feel comfortable coming to the main clinic with their mental health or addiction issues.
“I saw what was happening in the Recovery Clinic and I hear the move is for better care for the patients, but no one ever asked the patients what they want,” Sullivan stated. “I got word the move wasn’t going to happen but then I got another email that we are moving and here’s the dates. This is the second time. Why did it come up again?”
Sullivan also said that she has heard for years the main clinic is too crowded. She added that many people are afraid to speak out about it. She stated there are many recovery clinics that are stand alone and that we need to provide what our people want.
She was concerned about patients’ fears that when going to the main clinic, people will know why they are there when they are on heroin, from sweating, puking.
“They will know,” Sullivan concluded.
Girard’s explanation of the reason for moving the Recovery Clinic to main clinic is because of nursing care and prescribing drugs. He said they would be able to provide better care for their patients.
At a meeting in early February between some concerned citizens at the Peter Larson Room of the Tribal Office, some tribal elders shared their thoughts on the potential move.
Rose Barber stated people like the Recovery Clinic where it is because they like their privacy. She said staff and patients are expressing they had no say in it.
Marie Kuykendall said people that go to Bizhiki feel comfortable there. They feel they can come and go and they are not being watched, she added.
Melody Fleming said it’s about gossip.
“There are staring eyes when you’re at the clinic and people go in for help. We find something good on our Rez and people have to destroy it.”
At that meeting in February, LCO Vice Chairwoman Lorraine Gouge also spoke and said the move wasn’t going to happen.
“I know there’s been concern. We had concerns,” Gouge stated. “Those kind of people need help all the way around. Medications, care, therapy. Some things were happening that they weren’t following policy and procedures. When they are all in the same building (Recovery in the main clinic), they can get that specialized help with that program.”
Gouge went on to note there are different ways to address these addictions.
“We had to address some of these things that were being brought up. We had one discussion about it at the TGB level and people reacted strongly. It’s not happening but we need to make sure people are getting proper care,” Gouge said. “How we do it, we’ll have to figure out, until the new clinic is built.”
Since that time, Girard had sent out the email stating the move would happen.
Dottie Crust spoke next at the Convention Center meeting and said she had a broken heart and had put in her resignation because Tina Stec, the Medical-Assisted Therapy (MAT) director, and her staff had a successful program. Crust said allegations against Stec were not true. Stec was no longer the MAT director as of December 2022.
“I grieve that loss to our community,” Crust said. Crust explained that she had watched people get better and that addiction medication works.
Marie Basty, the CCS Director, said the Tribe had been dealing with this opioid epidemic since 2017. She said it started out with pills, then heroin and now they are putting fentanyl in everything.
“This is a war. It’s a crisis at Bizhiki,” Basty said. “I’m sick in my heart because I know our people are out there suffering and it’s difficult for me to do my job.”
She went on to say there are so many people that need help.
“That’s all we want to do at Bizhiki is help our people. I need my job, I love my job. I want to be working with all these people,” Basty said. “We’ve worked so hard and we need to continue to help people.”
Christian Clarquist of the main clinic, stated this whole thing started when a coding issue was found in billing. “It wasn’t finger pointing,” she said. “We got really divided and we should come together again and become a united clinic.”
Girard said he didn’t disagree with any of the speakers. He said harm reduction and home medical go hand in hand and that’s what they are trying to do is to get in line with the clinic’s policies and procedures, which hasn’t been done.
Girard said regarding the MAT program, “There was recommendations where this person or that person should get counseling, but the referrals weren’t done.”
Girard explained that establishing care is critical and a patient may have other problems beyond what is established like a drug problem. He said for instance, they may be abusing Suboxone, which is the medical-assisted drug for recovery.
“We are trying to build the Recovery Clinic, not bring it down,” Girard stated. He said there were only one or two patients being seen because referrals weren’t being made.
“We want them to get comprehensive care, not just suboxone. They need supportive care. It takes time to deal with. I’ve also never not signed for any referral for treatment.”
Girard went on to say that Bizhiki has discord right now because they haven’t followed policies and procedures.
“We don’t have these problems in the main clinic because we follow them. If they have problems we can deal with them at the main clinic,” Girard said. “We are about providing health care and better services for our people.”
Girard added the community needs a new clinic and that he isn’t giving up on that. The new clinic would have all the services under the same building. He said it’s difficult to have the home medical model when they are 3 miles apart.
“If TGB wants to keep Bizhiki there, then we’ll do our best,” Girard said.
A community member also spoke up at the meeting who has been in recovery for 15 months and is a patient of the Recovery Clinic. He credits his 15 months to the Bizhiki Clinic and that he doesn’t have to go the main clinic where the people swarm around you.
“I feel the energy at Bizhiki is fading because the people that were there are no longer there. Stec helped me develop a plan to get better and now no one cares about that plan any longer,” he stated. “I feel like just a number to make money for the management of the clinic. The politics in the clinic is making me feel like I am no longer welcome.”
Theresa Moore of the Recovery Clinic said she has heard that nurses from the main clinic have called their program a train wreck.
“I have never seen so much divide in our community. Our families are divided over this. We are being accused of doing horrible things. We have no help over there and its being systemically torn apart by abuse and making staff leave who have been there for many years,” Moore said.
She added, “We are a family-oriented Tribe, but we are not at the clinic, and I don’t know where this is going. It’s hurtful and it has to stop.”
Dr. Steve Miszkiewicz, the Clinic’s Medical Director, said according to IHS guidelines, it states MAT is a medical program and it should be in the confines of the clinic.
Girard told the people at the meeting that administrative staff aren’t the enemy.
“We’re trying to improve health care for everyone through collaboration,” Girard stated.
Girard said the most recent action from the TGB approved them moving the Recovery Clinic over to the main clinic, but that no administrative staff would be moved to Bizhiki. Several TGB members in attendance said they weren’t at the meeting where this was approved, that included Michelle Beaudin, Glenda Barber and Gary “Little Guy” Clause.
Beaudin stated, “At the end of the day, hurt feelings need to go out the door and we need to give our people the support they need. We need to do this together. It’s not about home medical and what building they are in. It’s about all that care surrounding the patient.”
Girard responded that it’s hard to do when they are 3 miles apart.
Gary “Little Guy” Clause said we need to get over the stigma and own our addictions, to take accountability. He said he went through addiction and recovered and is thankful he went through it because it made him what he is today and where he’s at.
“This is something new to us, this fentanyl epidemic, but its’ going to take all of us to help each other,” Clause stated.
As the meeting concluded, it wasn’t clear whether the Recovery Clinic proposed move was still going to happen.
TGB members L-R) Michelle Beaudin, Vice Chair Lorraine Gouge, Gary "Little Guy" Clause, Don Carley and Sec-Treasurer Tweed Shuman