When a new residential treatment center for women opened in Brentwood earlier this year, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was little time to celebrate.
The much-needed resource for women battling substance abuse was busy with its first residents and a ribbon cutting planned for March was delayed while staff from the Outreach Development Corporation hunkered down with residents in temporary quarantine.
"(Outreach) did not stop during the pandemic," Arlene González-Sánchez, commissioner of the New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS), said Tuesday after the long-delayed opening celebration. "They said ‘We are going to open. We are going to take women.’ And that was when you really needed it."
The facility can house up to 25 women, offering them group counseling, case management, life skills and parenting skills in a comfortable environment.
It was constructed with $1 million in OASAS funding. It is targeted to women ages 18 and over from Nassau and Suffolk counties and expects to serve between 50 and 75 women a year.
"Long Island does not have a lot of residential beds," said Debra Pantin, the president and CEO of Outreach. "Many women have to go into the city or out of the state."
The center is a place for women to have supportive services after they have completed intensive treatment and are getting ready to return to their families and the community.
"Women … have special needs and there are few programs that address all the needs women have," said González-Sánchez.
Ivana Gardiner, known as Ivy, called the site a "godsend." The 33-year-old mother of three had unsuccessfully battled an addiction to cocaine before reluctantly entering inpatient treatment about eight months ago.
"I felt like I was going to be stuck, I would not have the freedom to go," she said. "But that’s what was needed for me."
Born and raised in Macedonia, Gardiner said addiction was viewed there as a weakness met with shame and guilt — not supportive treatment.
Gardiner said the group sessions, staff and other services helped her from relapsing. She has a car, a job and is looking for a place to relocate with her family.
"The good work is paying off," she said.
But it was not without lots of pain — especially being separated from her children.
She remembered being so overwhelmed caring for her kids that even a nighttime bath with her 4-year-old son was a source of stress.
"Now I would give everything just to give him a bath," she said. "I found a different gratitude."
Women staying in the center can get transportation to Outreach’s nearby enhanced outpatient program.
Pantin said the women also get a lot of downtime to just relax, read or watch TV.
"I was there the other day and I saw a bunch of women just sitting around playing Monopoly and chatting about what they were going through," she said. "It was very therapeutic. There was no counseling staff there. It was just them. And that’s the kind of scene we want to create for women in treatment."