MOUNT VERNON – An addiction treatment facility opened its doors on the corner of West Gambier and Mechanics Street in Mount Vernon in December, aiming to approach services with compassion and to eliminate treatment barriers with court liaisons.
The treatment facility, Knox Recovery, offers outpatient and intensive outpatient services as well as regular Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings. It began accepting patients Dec. 13, Knox Recovery owner Todd Wells said.
“It's a disease and it's a struggle,” Wells said of substance abuse. “The goal is to get them through the door. It's not to keep them prolonged in treatment. The goal is to get them back into the community.”
Wells comes to his new role with 16 years of addiction treatment work in Ohio behind him. He has seen substance abuse often co-occurring with mental health issues. A key focus in his work in Knox County will be effective communication in times of crisis and not rushing change.
“It's not something that’s visual, you know, like a broken arm when we can look at an X-ray and say you're better,” Wells said. “But, this is unique.
"Something can be going very well for them, and a stressor comes out of nowhere — a late bill, a court document, some kind of charge from the past they weren’t ready for — and watching them use the skills that you've given them is just amazing. … but that’s difficult. That’s hard, and it takes time.”
Wells is a Shelby native but his addiction treatment work has taken him from Richland to Hardin to Knox County, where he ultimately calls home.
“Our kids are here,” Wells said of his and his wife’s family. “We have an investment into the community even more now than just being employed here.
“We are local, trying to help local.”
Substance abuse has been a documented concern in the area.
The Knox County community voiced concerns about drug and alcohol abuse, and the negative impact of substance abuse on the community at large, in the county’s latest health assessment.
Of 2021 assessment respondents, 36% personally knew someone in their community who has an abuse or addiction problem with heroin, methamphetamines, alcohol, or prescription pain medicine.
Substance abuse concerns can be seen in health assessments dating back years in the area, and court records show drug-related offenses are common.
Wells decided to open Knox Recovery to help Knox County fight the disease of addiction that remains prevalent in the area.
His career began with the juvenile and family treatment center Abraxas in Mansfield, followed by work in Hardin County Common Pleas and Municipal Court and Mount Vernon Municipal Court as bailiff.
Before opening Knox Recovery, Wells worked at Riverside Recovery Services, another drug treatment center in Knox County.
“I just felt like I was missing something,” Wells said of his time as an employee at treatment facilities. “I wanted to do more, and I wasn’t sure how to do more, because just being an employee there’s not much I could do.”
So, Wells sat down with an investor and pitched Knox Recovery. A year ago this month, in January 2021, Wells purchased the name with the state of Ohio, not having imagined his idea would come to fruition a year later, especially given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
He attributes some of that quick progress to the owner of the site Knox Recovery now occupies, Bob McClain. The previous tenant, Gantt Homes, Inc., left the space after outgrowing it, and while McClain said other entities were interested in the space, Wells’ vision topped all offers.
“Essentially, (McClain) gave me keys without a down payment, without anything,” Wells said.
“I just couldn't believe the things that were falling in place the way they were because, you know, without this building, I couldn't even get this started.”
As far as McClain’s stake in Knox Recovery, he has no reservations about its success but rather that it will surpass the space he's provided.
“My greatest fear with (Wells) is that they outgrow the space,” McClain said.
Meet the providers
In addition to McClain’s support, day-to-day operations at Knox Recovery are provided by a staff that has years of experience in addiction recovery work similar to Wells.
For example, Knox recovery’s counselor, Landon Huvler, has a background in juvenile addiction treatment.
Huvler and Wells knew each other from their previous work at Abraxas where Huvler worked as treatment supervisor for 13 years. With Knox Recovery, Huvler will do drug and alcohol assessments, individual counseling and group therapy.
Knox Recovery’s other staff are familiar with the area, too.
Clinical supervisor Tristin Compton is a 2009 graduate of Mount Vernon High School, and life skill navigator Ashley Ervin is a 2004 graduate of East Knox High School. Both have worked in substance abuse facilities previously and additionally in roles supporting mental health needs.
Jordan White, court liaison for Knox Recovery, is an outlier in that she has more recently switched to a career in addiction services, although she has a healthcare background. White was born and raised in Mount Vernon and worked in healthcare for about seven years as a receptionist, medical assistant and phlebotomist, which is a technician who draws blood.
White’s interactions as a phlebotomist with pregnant patients who were addicted to drugs is what led White to switch to a career in addiction recovery.
“Some of them were actively using,” White said of the pregnant patients whose blood work she had done. “I had encountered a handful who were like, ‘You're not going to find a vein. I'm using,’ and I could just see it in them — for them to tell me that was a lot for them.
“You don't want people to look, I guess, poorly on you, and then, especially if you have to sit there and say ‘I'm actively using,’ obviously people are not proud of those choices, regardless of what led them to them. … That's when I knew I wanted to help these people. I want to make a difference for them.”
White said she wants people to know their bad choices do not define them. As a court liaison for Knox Recovery, White has begun making regular appearances in court, making herself known to people who are in need of treatment services and trying to streamline the sign-up process.
“For my specific impact, it is definitely to break down some of those barriers for the people that are in need of help, but they feel they can't get the help,” White said.
Knox Recovery is different from the other treatment centers in the county, Riverside and New Vision at Knox Community Hospital, in that it does not offer in-patient housing.
Knox Recovery provides various levels of services, including American Society of Addiction Medicine level 1 (outpatient services), 2.1 (intensive outpatient services) and some 2.5 services (partial hospitalization programs), which include Substance Use Disorder individuals, groups, case management, drug screens and crisis intervention.
AA meetings are every Sunday at 9 a.m., and NA meetings are every Saturday at 7 p.m.