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Coordinated care gave Mary Lindsey the skills needed to succeed

Mary Lindsey: Coordinated care gave her the skills to succeed.

Mary Lindsey remembers the date like a birthday: Nov. 11, 2008. In fact, it is a sort of birthday — the day Lindsey checked herself into Portland's Hooper Detox Center and "got clean."

She was 35 years old, and by her own account didn't know "how to live." She had started abusing drugs at age 16. Three times she wound up in a hospital emergency room, twice for deep stab wounds and once after getting shot in the face.

"When I got to detox," Lindsey says, "I had nothing. My address was literally the street. I had never been responsible before."

Getting clean and back to health involved a lot more than detoxification. "I needed everything when I got clean," she says. "I didn't know how to cook a square meal. I didn't know how to go to work. I didn't know how to be social with people — I didn't know how to talk to people."

Hooper detox was Lindsey's doorway into the "wraparound" services of Portland's Central City Concern, a federally qualified health center that helps people with chronic mental illness and addictions to drugs or alcohol, or both. The center serves 13,000 people a year, most of them homeless.

Central City Concern provides not only primary health care, but also transitional housing, job training, counseling, mentoring and classes in daily living skills: how to prepare a meal, navigate a bus schedule, interview for a job.

Now 37, Lindsey has been sober for more than two years. She has a paying job. And in March, 28 months to the day after she stopped abusing drugs, Lindsey signed a lease for her own apartment.

"I'm a tax-paying, self-sufficient citizen," she says with pride.

Without the wraparound help she found at Central City Concern, Lindsey believes she would have fallen back into her addiction. Once before she had tried to go clean, but relapsed for lack of affordable housing.

"It's not just about health care," says Ed Blackburn, executive director of Central City Concern. "If you try to treat people without housing, you're not going to have much success."

The center's clientele is one of the most vulnerable and challenging in health care. These are people with serious addictions, often with chronic physical and mental illnesses that have gone untreated for years. Most are homeless. If they have received health care at all, it usually was in crisis at a hospital emergency room — the most costly place for treatment and the least able to provide needed wraparound help.

Since entering recovery, and the wraparound services at Central City Concern, Lindsey hasn't been to an emergency room once.