Greene County Recovery Court and others throughout the state continue to assist clients during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Tennessee’s many recovery courts play a critical role in reducing recidivism and improving the lives of those with substance use disorders in the state. These intensive court programs give repeat offenders a chance to break the cycle of their addiction and become productive members of society through the application of evidence-based treatment techniques and a ‘hands-on’ approach from court staff and program partners,” according to a court system news release.
Recovery court participants meet regularly with the judge presiding over their program along with counselors, recovery groups, “and others who forge relationships with them and become invested in their success,” the news release said.
The Tennessee court system has remained open throughout the ongoing pandemic, operating under provisions established by a series of Tennessee Supreme Court orders. The orders have limited in-person proceedings and called for the establishment of health and safety guidelines for court users and staff.
As a result, courts in Greene County and throughout the state “have had to adapt to new conditions, innovating new ways to conduct business. Recovery courts have done the same, delivering services in slightly modified ways,” the release said.
BAILEY: ADJUSTMENTS MADE
Juvenile and General Session courts Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. has presided over Greene County Recovery Court since 2006. Bailey said Recovery Court has been able to adjust and move forward during the pandemic.
“Thanks to our director, Samantha Venerable, and our (Comprehensive Community Services) Treatment Counselor John Toney, our Recovery Court program has moved forward with only minor issues,” Baileys aid.
“Obviously, we have had to adjust. At one point the group therapy sessions were held only via Zoom. Now, clients can either attend in person or via Zoom,” Bailey said. “Also, our clients can now attend recovery meetings like AA/NA and verify their attendance via an app on their phone in lieu of having someone sign a paper for them.”
Bailey said Recovery Court clients who have individual therapy with counselors at Frontier Health have maintained their appointments via phone and recently, also in person.
Recovery Court coordinators in other judicial districts in the state have also made changes, the news release said.
The 10th Judicial District includes Bradley, McMinn, Monroe, and Polk counties.
Circuit Court Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg presides over the 10th Judicial District Mental Health Court.
Freiberg has used a mixture of social distancing and remote video technology to adapt his courts to the pandemic, he said in the news release.
“We’ve been able to overcome some difficulties and challenges, and people are doing really well,” Freiberg said.
Some of the most significant challenges the recovery court faced came early in the pandemic, just after the Tennessee Supreme Court issued its first order limiting in-court appearances.
“Our treatment provider shuttered its doors, and they were doing remote telemedicine. However you had participants with extreme addiction treatment needs who were used to being in session for two-and-one-half hours per night, three times a week, suddenly being told to call in or Skype in for 15 minutes, three times a week,” Freiberg said.
“We were very concerned about the level of care we were providing and its impact on the participants. The whole goal of recovery court is to provide participants with stability and structure because they have so many difficulties in their lives when they’re in the initial stages of recovery, and all of a sudden because of the pandemic we were not able to provide that stability for them,” he said.
Freiberg said the the treatment provider made adjustments and opened back up after making some changes to how the group sessions were held.
He said that instead of one large group session, the provider switched to several small group sessions, each with fewer than 10 participants.
“This allowed for greater social distancing and still provided participants with the benefit of meeting with their peers,” Freiberg said, providing a key component of recovery court.
“If they are with their peers, people who are struggling as they are, the message can really resonate,” he said.
Freiberg also changed his weekly in-person meetings with court participants to remote Skype meetings.
“The participants who knew me face-to-face in court have handled the Skype consultations with me seamlessly,” he said. “It’s not been an issue at all.”
In the coming weeks, Phase 1 participants may start appearing for one-on-one consultations with Freiberg in the courtroom. That way, an in-person rapport can be established before moving to Skype interactions, the news release said.
Bailey and other judges across the state have taken note of a collateral effect of the pandemic: the rising number of overdoses, suicides, and domestic violence incidents nationwide.
Freiberg said he has seen those increases in his jurisdiction and was concerned that they may affect Recovery Court participants.
Greene County sheriff’s deputies have responded to at least three suicides in recent weeks, along with several suicide attempts, Sheriff Wesley Holt said.
A Ballad Health official referred questions about drug overdoses in Greene County to the state. The most recent figures from the state Department of Health say there were 23 drug-related overdose deaths in 2018.
Freiberg said that 10th Judicial District Mental Health Court participants “actually seem to be thriving in the current environment.”
For some, general anxiety and apprehension about social contact are familiar states of mind now pervasive in society, the judge said.
“The world is now operating at their speed,” Freiberg said.