July 22, 2013

Mercy substance abuse program helps 'Mommy be a better mommy'

The treatment program is designed to let the women's children live with them.

By Joe Lawlor jlawlor@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Shelly Fasano said when she was addicted to alcohol and prescription pills, she didn't know how to be a good parent to her daughter, Gina.

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Shelly Fasano shares a hug with her daughter, Gina Carbone, 3, at McAuley Residence in Portland. Fasano is now in the last months of her two-year treatment program.

Photos by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

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Shelly Fasano speaks about her experience with her 3-year-old daughter at McAuley Residence.

Additional Photos Below

"I never really looked into her eyes," Fasano said quietly. "At least not the kind of eye contact a parent should have, where you're truly focused on your child."

Fasano is one of 15 women in a recently expanded treatment program offered by Mercy Health System that allows children of substance abusers to live with their moms while the women undergo treatment.

Fasano said she failed previous 28-day substance abuse programs, in part because she was separated from Gina, now 3.

"It was harder to concentrate on the treatment because my daughter wasn't with me," Fasano said, explaining that she felt a void in her heart when her child was absent. "It was just torturous."

Fasano, 39, of Portland, is now in the last months of a two-year treatment program at Mercy Hospital's McAuley Residence, a rare live-in substance abuse program designed specifically for women in which the women's children live with them.

Fasano said the program has helped her learn not only how to beat her addictions, but also how to be a good parent.

"When I wasn't right, I used to put her in front of the TV a lot, or sit her in her high chair, or put her in her playpen," Fasano said. "Now I sit her on my lap and read to her."

One day last week, Gina, who shares her mother's complexion and long brown hair, wanted to watch a cooking class at the McAuley Residence -- a former children's hospital located on High Street in Portland. She beckoned for her mother to join her, and the two held hands as they watched cooking instructors cut up garlic and carrots.

Melissa Skahan, a vice president at Mercy Hospital who oversees the McAuley Residence, said the program has doubled in size, moving in January from State Street to its new location on High Street. But even though the program now can treat 15 women at one time, one or two potential clients per week still have to be turned away.

"The need is profound," Skahan said. She believes the program is the only substance abuse treatment program in the state that allows children to live with their mothers while the moms are in treatment.

The program will likely be expanded, Skahan said, when Mercy Health System and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in Bangor complete their merger this fall. She said they're looking at a location in Brewer to replicate the program in eastern Maine.

Skahan said that 80 percent of the women who complete the McAuley Residence program are employed and have a stable residence, according to internal statistics compiled by the hospital. Fifty-eight percent end up with a more advanced educational degree than they had before they entered the program, Skahan said.

Research has shown that substance abuse programs tailored to women are more effective for them than mixed-gender programs, according to a 2003 report for the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The report also found that women who lived with their children while in treatment stayed in the programs longer, had higher self-esteem and lower levels of depression than women who were separated from their children.

Jeana Coggins, 29, who has been at the McAuley Residence for about six months, said that her 6-year-old daughter is a motivating factor for her to complete the program. Her child's presence every day is a constant reminder.

"We have a much closer bond now. She notices and feels the change in me," Coggins said. "I was scared when I first showed up here. I didn't want to grow up. Everything was someone else's fault."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Tim Fuller, a health promotion specialist, demonstrates proper food chopping techniques at McAuley Residence.


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