Santa Clara County gets state help to fund detox beds
Shelly Lucero, recovery residence supervisor at Pathway Society, said the program saved her life. She said substance use treatment can transform lives when individuals are given enough time to recover. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Santa Clara County is in the midst of a substance use crisis, and a multi-million-dollar state grant to combat drug addiction could change the course of untold lives. 

    The California Department of Health Care Services has awarded $6.4 million to San-Jose based Pathway Society, a substance use and counseling treatment organization. The funding enables the nearly 60-year-old nonprofit to construct a 30-bed chemical dependency detox facility adjacent to Pathway House, which is currently being used for detox and residential treatment. This new facility will enable the existing one to be repurposed exclusively for residential care. 

    A $6.4 million state grant is allowing Pathway Society to add a 30-bed facility adjacent to Pathway House, a substance use treatment center. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    Pathway Society CEO Gary Montrezza said the nonprofit wants clients to feel emotionally and physically comfortable with their surroundings and the care they receive.  

    “We need to have a safe landing for people,” he told San José Spotlight. “We want a dedicated place for them. We don’t just want to catch and release. That’s not even a good harm reduction strategy.”

    Montrezza said the grant validates Pathway’s efforts and the need for substance use treatment services in Santa Clara County. He said as withdrawal management is a critical first step, it makes sense to open that door a little wider. About 30% to 40% of clients who come in for detox transfer into residential treatment, he said.

    Gary Montrezza, CEO of Pathway Society, said the grant validates its efforts and the need for substance use treatment services in the county. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

    The grant will enable the number of detox beds to increase from 16 to 30 and residential treatment beds from 56 to 72. It requires the new property to only serve Medi-Cal recipients and other underserved populations, including the homeless.

    This grant comes at a pivotal time, as the county continues to struggle with ongoing mental health issues and a substance use epidemic. Last year, county officials declared a public health crisis in mental health and substance use citing a record increase in suicides and drug overdoses, an inadequate number of beds in treatment facilities and the overuse of prisons for those in need of treatment.

    “Pathway Society is uniquely suited to address a community in urgent need of expanded access to treatment for substance use issues,” Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee told San José Spotlight. “This center will not only offer vital services to those battling addiction, but it will also bring a beacon of hope to all those touched by the effects of addiction.” 

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Susan Ellenberg said when there aren’t enough beds available, it creates gaps that make the entire behavioral health and substance use treatment system more expensive and less effective.

    “Pathway’s new detox beds, plus the 28 new crisis residential beds that are coming to 650 S. Bascom, are among the ways the county is fervently working to meet the need,” she said.

    It’s hard to convince people who suffer from substance use to seek help, Montrezza said. He’s seen an enormous increase in the levels of trauma, homelessness and despair from those with substance use and mental health disorders. He said additional supportive housing and safety net services are needed in the community.

    “If we get someone stable… they’re going to need lots of touches from the system,” he said, “to make sure they don’t slide back into a lifestyle that’s harmful.”

    Pathway Society provides a total of 104 beds for residential substance use disorder treatment and 26 beds for detoxification at Pathway House and Mariposa Lodge in San Jose. Its current operations budget is about $15 million, Montrezza said, and the new facility will be about $2 million in operating costs.

    Construction of the new facility will start in September, Montrezza said, with its opening planned for mid-June 2024. He said finding staff is challenging. Pathway Society employs licensed therapists, as well as alcohol and drug counselors with lived experience, and is hoping to hire recent graduates and retain its current staff.

    “Our population is extremely difficult to work with,” he said. “People with a head and heart for that kind of work are not dropping out of trees.” 

    For Shelly Lucero, the recovery residence supervisor at Pathway Society, work is more than a job, since she used to be a client. She said Pathway saved her life. There’s a great need for people to get off the street and detox in a manner that’s not just a spin cycle, she told San José Spotlight, as it can take three months to get the drugs out of their system.

    “Getting into a recovery residence and building a new community is something that is very helpful,” she said. “With the more beds we get… I think we’re going to have a higher success rate. I think it’s going to change a lot of lives.”

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected].

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