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The Link celebrates past while considering expansion for dual recovery

September 5, 2018

A lot has changed in addiction recovery since The Link Halfway House opened in Norfolk in the late 1970s.

Now in its 40th year of operation, the residential treatment program is celebrating its past while planning for the future.

Executive director Tom Barr said The Link’s board of directors has made financially sound decisions that have helped make the future bright for the program.

“We’ve been, financially, a very responsible agency for a long time,” Barr said. “We feel that we’re providing some services — what I’d call niche services — that nobody else is providing in this area of the state.”

The Link will host a celebration open house for the public from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, at its facility at 1001 W. Norfolk Ave. in Norfolk. The event will feature food, tours and guest speakers.

The facility opened in the late 1970s when officials with Region IV Behavioral Health — then known as Monroe Mental Health — recognized recovering alcoholics who weren’t ready to live on their own needed a place to go.

The house at 1001 W. Norfolk Ave. was established as The Link.

“It started out small,” Barr said. “The house (at 1001 W. Norfolk Ave.) is the original house. It took a long time before it was full.”

The Link now has a 43-bed capacity between the four houses in which it operates. Residents come to The Link after completing short-term residential treatment or a period of incarceration; the program is licensed and follows protocols set forth by the Nebraska Department of Health & Human Services, Barr said.

The program helps recovering addicts and alcoholics establish a structured lifestyle where they can make rational choices that will benefit them in the long term rather than making decisions based on what they want or feel in the moment, Barr said.

“The structure of this program makes a lot of the decisions for them,” he said. “The longer they’re here, the more they have a chance to practice that decision making.”

Barr — who has been with The Link for more than seven years — said a lot of changes have been made in recovery over the years. He has worked with people overcoming addictions to drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine and opiates, but he still considers alcohol “as deadly a drug as there is.”

“A big change we’ve seen in the last six or seven years here is the type of individual getting referred to the halfway house,” he said. “A few years ago, it was much more likely to get a typical alcoholic or drug addict who was really struggling. Now, there’s a higher percentage of guys who really don’t want to get clean, but they’re forced here legally.”

Barr said The Link’s responsibility is then to make addicts realize recovery is a much better way to live.

“It’s our job to make recovery look so good that everybody should want it — even if you’re not an addict,” he said.

The halfway house program is nine to 12 months long. One of The Link’s four houses is devoted to offering a five- to six-month-long program for individuals with dual diagnosis, the co-mingling of addiction and mental illness.

Barr said the dual recovery program is one step down from the psychiatric unit at the hospital and is staffed with full-time nursing and many of the technicians also are medication aides. It’s also the program The Link hopes to expand in the near future.

The current dual recovery program has 10 beds with two full time therapists, but it’s not enough to meet the demand, Barr said.

“We hope to expand the dual recovery program. It’s always full with a waiting list. We’ve looked into the possibility of building (a new facility). We’re in the very early stages of looking at that as a possibility,” Barr said.

Barr said he believes Norfolk is blessed with a lot of good health care providers to care for those who are seeking or need treatment for substance abuse and/or mental illness. He added that he’s thankful to those who have supported The Link since its beginning.

“It can be difficult work, but the people we serve need help. We need to do everything we can to try to help them,” he said.

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