By DEBORAH CIRCELLI
DELAND -- The stomach scars are long and deep when Kevin Cushing lifts his shirt and reveals one of the lowest points in his life.
He's physically healed from three self-inflicted shotgun blasts five years ago but still on the mend from the addictions that drove him to maim himself. The habits he couldn't quit after almost dying are why he'll live for six months at Serenity House's newest treatment facility west of Daytona Beach.
Cushing, an electrician with his own business for 10 years, said he was spiraling out of control on crack cocaine and other drugs and doesn't remember pulling the trigger or the pain that followed.
He woke up days later in intensive care with his family standing over him. He said he lost his spleen, part of his stomach and three ribs. Doctors thought he would die.
"It haunts me -- the misery of knowing I did that kind of thing to myself," Cushing, 48, said this past week while at the new 76-bed facility. "It took me out of the real world, and I didn't even know I did it because of the alcohol and drugs."
Cushing is one of 20 who have moved into the Hugh West building since it opened last month. Clients with substance abuse and mental health problems are treated there.
He counts himself as one of the lucky ones because the agency has a waiting list of 70 people and future funding for indigent clients is in question because of state budget problems.
Serenity House and Stewart-Marchman Center, the area's largest substance abuse treatment providers, are adding more beds but worry who will pay to fill them.
Bill Janes, the assistant secretary of substance abuse and mental health at the state Department of Children & Families, is seeking an extra $10 million for treatment statewide, but with the state's shortfall and local government's struggling, he said services could be cut.
Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to release his budget proposals to legislators by Feb. 4.
Serenity House, which primarily serves uninsured clients such as Cushing, will have 30 beds vacant at other sites in the next month after some current clients are moved into the new facility, which was bought by the county from Act Corp.
Randy Croy, executive director of Serenity House, hopes for state and veterans' funding to fill vacant beds.
Stewart-Marchman Center is requesting $1 million from the Legislature to help fund a new 100-bed Bunnell treatment center expected to open at the end of the year. Half of the beds at the Vince Carter Sanctuary in Bunnell will be for indigent clients and the other for people with insurance or other private funding.
Stewart-Marchman officials said they may look at doing less residential treatment for indigent clients and more outpatient, which is less costly though not as effective.
"This is a big problem for us on the horizon," said Chet Bell, CEO of Stewart-Marchman.
The agency is trying to get businesses and individuals to sponsor rooms and wings to help with funding needs at the new facility.
"One option is always to padlock (part of the facility) until we can afford to operate it," said Ernest Cantley, president of the Stewart-Marchman Center.
The state is dealing with projected tax shortfalls of nearly $2.5 billion over two years because of the troubled housing market and other economic problems.
"It's going to be a very down year ," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach. "We're going to have to work together to hurt people as little as we can."
Janes, who is also director of the state Office of Drug Control, said he and DCF Secretary Bob Butterworth are doing what they can to "protect critical services."
"We have got to support substance abuse funding," Janes said. "If we don't treat the addiction and give (people) life skills, they will continue to use drugs and commit crimes and the cost to our communities and state are just repeated."
Despite almost dying, Cushing, who also has bipolar disorder, still couldn't stop using crack. He lost his business and $100,000-a-year income, was in and out of jail on various charges and ended up sleeping under bridges and in the woods the past two years.
"Once I met crack cocaine, my life ended," said Cushing, who according to police reports also threatened his former girlfriend before eventually turning the gun on himself.
Kirk Phillips, who is also at the new Serenity House facility, has lived a similar life with cocaine. The Army veteran, also bipolar, came down from New York and ended up in detox in Gainesville at the end of last year. He, too, has been in jail, was shot in the neck and once was in the hospital after injecting "every medication I could get my hands on."
"I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired," Phillips said. "I'm 44. I can't do it again."
For Cushing, this is his fourth substance abuse program, but the father of a teen-ager and a young adult also says things are different. He wants to live and have a productive business again.
"I pray to God I'm one of the ones who make it," he said. "It's the end of the road for me. This is my last chance. I'm not going to mess it up. I want to see my (future) grandchildren and give my daughter away and her be proud of me."
Funding cuts spur merger talks among treatment centers
DAYTONA BEACH -- Some area agencies are combining forces to save money and serve more clients as state and local funds dwindle.
Stewart-Marchman Center and Act Corp. are not only exploring whether to merge but currently combining call centers to handle substance abuse or mental health calls.
Consolidating some services between the area's two largest substance abuse and mental health providers saves administrative costs and will result in more patient screenings, agency officials said, along with getting people connected to services faster.
With the call centers, which already were in the same building, people at Act will be able to schedule clients for services with Stewart-Marchman and vice-versa.
Local agencies are trying to cut costs as the state deals with a budget shortfall and concerns over potential funding cuts.
"We all play pretty well together in the sandbox here in Volusia County, but I think we have to get even more creative. That's the bottom line," said Chet Bell, CEO at Stewart-Marchman Center.
Talks continue about a possible merger, or combining more services. Stewart-Marchman is also looking at whether it can get better prices for its patients by using Act's pharmacy.
The Homeless Assistance Corp., which runs a dining program, shelter and other services on North Street, and the Volusia/Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless were also in talks about whether to combine. But talks have ceased, Brian Willard, executive director of the Homeless Assistance Corp., said Friday.
Willard said his agency can be "self-sufficient" despite recent financial struggles. He said donations and grants will have to carry the agency through this fiscal year.
A DeLand agency, The House Next Door, is opening an additional office next month in Daytona Beach, sharing space at Easter Seals of Volusia & Flagler Counties on Dunn Avenue. Services there will be provided to Medicaid and Healthy Start clients.
The House Next Door provides counseling and substance abuse prevention services. It also rents an office at the Presbyterian Counseling Center on the beachside since closing its office in Port Orange more than a year ago to save on expenses.
"A lot of the people referred to us don't have the transportation to get to Deltona or DeLand," said Steve Sally, executive director of The House Next Door. "People are realizing if we coordinate things we can do better things for our community."
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
By DEBORAH CIRCELLI
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