AIM for Recovery & Wellness bus brings life-saving services to the GLBR’s rural communities

“If you see the bus, see the unit, don’t be afraid to knock on the door. It’s always open,” says Tommy Goodroe, the recovery coach on the Action in Motion (AIM) for Recovery & Wellness bus.

In addition to recovery coaching, Tommy Goodroe also drives the bus.This mobile health unit, a substance use treatment bus, has been making its rounds around the region. The bus is the result of a partnership between Mid-State Health Network and Recovery Pathways, LLC.

“The entire point of this is to bring substance use and mental health treatment to rural areas that don’t otherwise have access,” says Bree Benham, programs manager and grants coordinator at Recovery Pathways, LLC. 

The AIM bus is full service, meaning they provide individual counseling, drug screenings, medication treatment, case management, recovery coaching, and addiction physicians. Due to COVID-19, the physicians are being seen via Telehealth.

“People do need this. It can be your next-door neighbor, it can be your son, it can be your grandma.”The bus has been around since late 2019 (with an off-period from March-July 2020), but didn’t expand into Midland County until April 2021. Initially, it alternated between North Midland Family Center and West Midland Family Center. Now, they’re at Midland Community Mental Health and Coleman Family Center. Unfortunately, the bus was unable to get wifi or cellular signals at North Midland, so they had to switch locations.

The bus also provides internet access and phone access, which are both spotty in rural areas.

To begin your intake, call the Pathways office at 989-928-3566. The bus’s hours of operations are from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.“We’re realizing people in more rural areas don’t have access to internet; they don’t have access to Facebook to see where we’re at,” says Benham. “So we’re doing a lot of on-the-ground work and we’re conscious that if people need service, they’re going to need full service.” 

To reach people with limited access, Benham and her team work to get referrals from primary care physicians, OBGYNs, or any local agency within that county, and partner with local Community Mental Health and the Department of Health and Human Services. They print out fliers and brochures and leave them at these facilities so that people who may need the care will know it’s an option.

Bree Benham is the programs manager and grants coordinator at Recovery Pathways, LLC.“It’s really just a lot of networking with local agencies to know that they know what we’re doing, and then that they can filter that down to the clients that they see,” says Benham.

Since the team has moved away from Facebook for communications to more on-the-ground work, they’ve noticed a significant change in usage. From Oct. 2020 through this September, the bus has seen 473 individual counseling appointments, which is the main component of the treatment program. There have been 235 peer support (or recovery coaching) appointments.

“To see a client who comes in, possibly in full addiction, and then to turn around and stick with the program — to see them a month or two later is like, wow,” says Kelly Coleman, the therapist and case manager on the bus. “We have people who have been in addiction for years, sometimes decades, and to see that turnaround — it’s amazing.”

While the numbers have been improving, there’s still room for growth.

"The hardest thing is for that person to pick up that telephone, to walk through that door. That’s the struggle — we’re just here to support.”“It’s still not where we’re slammed every single day,” says Benham. “We’re still really trying to … get people back face-to-face, getting them engaged in services again, and being able to offer that support in-person. I know a lot of our clients through COVID struggled with Telehealth or phone-only appointments, because a big stressor for people in recovery is isolation.”

Fighting the stigma in Midland County

“I would just love if more people would utilize it and talk about [the bus],” says Benham, “because one of the biggest barriers that we’ve had in Midland County is people either 100% buy-in to what we’re doing, or they 100% don’t — there’s not really any inbetween.”

Benham has been working to reduce the stigma around treatment for substance use disorders. Even in the past five years, Benham recounts pushback. 

From Oct. 2020 through this September, the bus has seen 473 individual counseling appointments.“People had the kind of mentality, especially in Midland County, that ‘that’s not a problem that exists here, people don’t need that, we don’t need to bring that into this city.’ … If people are seeking treatment, and they’re wanting the help, that’s a good thing.”

As part of their outreach, the AIM bus had a booth at the Midland County Fair this past August. They gave out information, swag, and free NARCAN® — a treatment for someone who has or is suspected to have overdosed on opioids.

“It’s a harm-reduction strategy,” says Benham. “You never know. You could be at the mall and somebody could overdose in the parking lot. And even though you don’t personally know anybody, it’s just something to have in case that situation ever came up. A comment we got all the time was, ‘Oh, I don’t need that; I don’t do that kind of stuff.’”

Benham has been working to reduce the stigma around treatment for substance use disorders.To overcome the stigma, Benham attends monthly community meetings with the Legacy Center, which runs a community coalition for substance use providers and affected people. One of the stigmas is that substance users are “dirty” or homeless.

“People do need this. It can be your next-door neighbor, it can be your son, it can be your grandma,” says Benham. “It can really be anybody. … It’s the normal person that lives right next door to you that you’d never know.”

What’s it like on the bus?

“I equate it to walking into a cave that you have never walked into before,” says Kelly Coleman, the therapist and case manager on the bus, referring to seeking help for addiction. Also onboard the bus is recovery coach and driver Tommy Goodroe.

Treatment is usually covered with insurance. If you don’t have insurance or it isn’t accepted, it still may be free, or low-cost and payable with cash.By the time people are stepping onto the bus, they’ve usually already gone through the process of calling the agency for intake (989-928-3566). Then, they go through a funding assessment, a complete biopsychosocial, and are then assigned to a therapist. However, walk-ins are welcome and the intake can be done on the bus, too.

“The program is very strict that we run, but it’s also voluntary,” says Benham. “We require people to do all the parts, not just come in and get your medication and don’t go to therapy. You have to be engaged in all the pieces in order for it to be a successful thing.”

The bus is in a new location every day, five days a week. It services Midland, Saginaw, Arenac, Isabella, Gladwin, and Bay Counties. Across those counties, there are a total of 10 different locations the bus visits. 

Treatment is usually covered with insurance. If you don’t have insurance or it isn’t accepted, it still may be free, or low-cost and payable with cash.

“The point of the unit is not to turn anybody away,” says Benham.

The bus is funded through the State Opioid Response grant from the State of Michigan, which was awarded to Mid-State Health Network (MSHN), our region’s Prepaid Inpatient Health Plan. Basically, Medicaid dollars for our region filter through MSHN. The grant is renewed annually in October. Recovery Pathways, LLC, which Benham works for, is the contracted provider to provide services on the mobile unit. 

Kelly Coleman is the therapist and case manager on the bus.The unit’s Facebook page has occasional updates, but to see the bus’s schedule, MSHN’s website is the best source. Or, you can ask your local health care provider for a flier or referral. To begin your intake, call the Pathways office at 989-928-3566. The bus’s hours of operation are from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

“The toughest thing to do is not what I do; it’s not what Tom does; it’s not what we do as an agency. The hardest thing is for that person to pick up that telephone, to walk through that door,” says Coleman. “That’s the struggle — we’re just here to support.”

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala grew up in the Tri-Cities and enjoys broadcasting all the positive change happening in Midland. As Assistant Editor for Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are environment, wellness, mental health, and the arts. As a human, Crystal is a serial hobbyist: hiking, drawing, yoga, and playing music. Her work can be seen in The Detroit Free Press, Midland Daily News, and The Delta Collegiate. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.