Milestone Recovery, a Portland-based nonprofit serving Mainers experiencing substance use disorders and homelessness, announced Thursday that it will be forced to temporarily close its detoxification program.

The closure will become effective Saturday and could potentially affect hundreds of Mainers who receive medical treatment of withdrawal symptoms from addictive substances.

Executive Director Oliver Bradeen attributed the closure to staffing shortages. Milestone’s detoxification program, the only such independent, nonprofit service in southern Maine, serves more than 1,500 people a year. Milestone is located on India Street.

The staffing shortages began about a year ago and intensified as Milestone began to deal with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bradeen said the closure amounts to a short-term suspension of services until Milestone can hire and train new staff members. Bradeen was unable to offer a more specific timeline.

“We know how much the community counts on this program,” Bradeen said in a statement. “For a lot of financially disadvantaged Mainers, Milestone is the only place they can get the medical care they need to safely begin their recovery from substance disorders. That’s why we were so reluctant to take this step. Nevertheless, our clients deserve the highest quality of care, and if we’re unable to provide that, it’s critical that we take some time to recruit and train new staff to give our clients the best chance of success.”

Milestone is dealing with a challenge that is playing out across the country. According to the American Nursing Association, there are predicted to be more vacant positions in nursing nationwide by next year than in any other field. The shortage has taken its toll on nonprofits and small organizations such as Milestone.

“This shortage has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused even greater demand for registered nurses and necessitated new procedures that contribute to staff burnout,” Milestone said in a press release.

Milestone’s emergency homeless shelter, residential treatment program, women’s recovery house and HOME Team outreach program will remain open while the detoxification service is closed. Staff will remain available to make referrals to other programs.

“While we’re disappointed to have to take this step, we’re optimistic for what it signals for our program going forward,” said Dr. Mary Dowd, Milestone’s medical director. “By taking a few weeks to step back and focus on recruiting and training staff, we hope to fully staff the Detox and work our way back to full capacity in this important program.”

Several people reacted on Facebook with hope and gratitude for the work that Milestone does.

“I know you will come back stronger than ever. I cannot say enough about the help I’ve received there,” one woman wrote. “I’m 94 days sober and Milestone has loved me so kindly during my strife. Everytime I’ve walked through the doors, you’ve said, ‘I’m so glad you made it back.’ I am forever grateful to you. You’ve loved me back to health.”

“I love that you won’t compromise the service level – the work you do is so important! Hope you can fill any vacancies with the best people and start back up soon,” another woman posted.

Milestone celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017.

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