First tribally owned medication-assisted treatment clinic opens in Salem

Jennifer Worth, operations director at Great Circle Recovery, holds up a hygiene kit they’ll hand out to unsheltered clients at a new medication-assisted treatment clinic operated by the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde. (Saphara Harrell/Salem Reporter)

For years, the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde has spent millions sending members to treatment for substance abuse.

When members relapsed because they couldn’t get placement in a treatment program, Kelly Rowe, the tribe’s Health and Wellness director, thought: “Why are we not doing this ourselves? How do we make something that is meaningful to us and our membership?”

Last month, that thought came to fruition as Great Circle Recovery, located at 1011 Commercial St. N.E., opened in Salem. It’s a medication-assisted treatment clinic owned and operated by the tribe, the first such clinic in the state, to provide medication that helps people taper off opioid dependency. It will also serve the broader community.

“For me, it really is about trying to build not just health services but true wellness for our tribal population,” Rowe said. “You can’t just treat the tribal member; you need to treat the household. This is looking for wellness and spiritual healing and healing of all the things that have landed into somebody finding themselves in a situation where they’re using opioids to process their pain.” 

The facility aims to provide no-barrier access to treatment. Because some clients will be experiencing homelessness, that could mean connecting them to a primary care provider, housing or food.

One of the ways the clinic is reducing barriers is by providing labs and drug screens onsite. Usually, labs are done at a separate location, meaning people have to travel to access them which creates another hurdle to treatment.

Jennifer Worth, operations director, said the clinic offers a next step beyond other outpatient programs where people struggling with addiction get a suboxone prescription for 30 days.

Instead, people will come in daily for methadone or suboxone, two medications that have been used for decades to treat opioid addictions.

“They’re coming here every day because they need a lot of structure and they need a lot of support. They are mostly coming to be observed by a nurse each day,” Worth said.

Newer patients will be met by a peer support person, who has gone through an opioid treatment program.

There’s a mandatory orientation group with three hourlong sessions to go over expectations in the program. The clinic also offers counseling groups. 

One of the groups offered in the clinic is called “wellbriety.” It’s a class taught by one of the tribal members that will offer ceremonies and traditional healing. For those that want it, there will be a ceremonial smudging, a burning of dried plants like sage that’s meant to cleanse.

Worth said the focus will be on tribal members. There are currently some Grande Ronde members enrolled in other treatment programs in Marion County they’re hoping to bring over to the clinic.

Rowe said the facility will likely have a maximum of 250 clients. The clinic accepts the Oregon Health Plan and tribal members’ health insurance.

Rowe said the creek which runs behind the building, Mill Creek, has cultural and historical significance to the tribe. The clinic’s name comes from the land where the tribe is located about 45 minutes west of Salem which is in the shape of a circle. The tribe has a behavioral health program in Grande Ronde which offers outpatient mental health and drug and alcohol assessment. 

There are plans for a same-day care clinic and pharmacy on the ground floor of the Salem facility, and in the future a medical facility on the top floor.

“The vision is to do that holistic wraparound care and eventually when that is built let’s say we have someone who has a wound care issue. We won’t send them to the emergency room, we’ll just send them next door to get an antibiotic and some wound care,” Worth said.

Worth said the goal of the clinic is to make people feel cared about and believe recovery is possible.

“A lot of our clients, sometimes they’ve got multiple systems: child welfare, trouble with incarceration. There’s a lot of things going on because their opioid addiction has just kind of taken over their life. And so, we are to embrace, welcome, let them know the expectation and also provide a safe place where they can engage in treatment services. And to know that hope is possible,” she said. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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