Tim Murphy, CEO of Bridgeway Recovery Services sits in his office at the organization's administrative office in Salem on Wednesday, April 22. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

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Tim Murphy, CEO of Bridgeway Recovery Services, has a simple message for Salem residents grappling with personal challenges.

"We're here. We're open. We will continue to rise to the occasion as needed for the people that come to Bridgeway," he said.

Since 2009, people with chemical dependency, mental illness or problem gambling have relied on Bridgeway. COVID-19 restrictions have changed how treatment is delivered, but the help remains.

And Murphy thinks those services are more important now than ever.

"I worry about people with symptoms of mental illness, and those symptoms being exacerbated by the worry and the anxiety and the concern. I think we should expect that. We're seeing people coming into our detox clinic really struggling," he said.

He doesn't believe those issues will fade when COVID-19 restrictions ease.

"As this works itself out and we slowly return to some form of daily operating, we're going to see a higher need for the services that we provide," he said.

"The stress and the anxiety are going to continue. Some folks are going to return to the workforce. Some folks may not," he said. "I think the support that people get from mental health treatment will be seen as an antidote to the stress they're experiencing and help them regain a sense of well-being."

Murphy started planning for the impact of the virus months ago. When the restrictions came, his team was ready.

"In late February, we started being worried about what we were hearing about a very infectious, contagious disease. So we built an infection control task force with our doctors and our medical team and our provider team in late February," he said. "As things progressed, we started looking at where we were most vulnerable and where our patients would need the most support, and we started making decisions on that."

Bridgeway has three residential homes: one for men, one for women, and one for people addressing gambling. They were the first services to change.

"When the first news hit about COVID we closed admissions to those programs, but we kept them open, serving people that were already in those homes," he said. "But as they completed treatment or chose to leave treatment because they wanted to get back to their homes and families under this pandemic, those houses slowly closed."

Bridgeway also offers inpatient detoxification help for people with chemical dependency. Before COVID-19 came, 24 beds were available for people in need. Now, just 14 spots are available.

In mid-March, the clinics closed, and all counseling services moved online.

Some detox staff members and all residential home staff members are on what Murphy calls "temporary suspension." Out of about 150 total employees, 40 aren't working now.

"I don't like the term 'laid off.' We use temporary suspension so they could get unemployment support. We're continuing to pay their health insurance, however. It seemed wrong to take away people's health insurance during a health pandemic. So we paid all their insurance through the month of April and now through the month of May," he said.

This is the first time Bridgeway has suspended staff.

"It was emotional. I mean, I started the company. I've been involved in the hiring, and we work really closely in a family sort of atmosphere. We've never had to lay anybody off before. It was very difficult to do," he said.

Staff that remain at work fall into two groups. One set works from home. They tackle administrative tasks, including payroll processing and billing, or they offer individual or group counseling sessions to people in need.

The other set works in the detox center while wearing gowns, masks, face shields, and other personal protective equipment.

Recovery has always been about community, Murphy said. Finding connection during a COVID outbreak is difficult. Masks and face shields obscure smiles. Hugs and handshakes are forbidden. People staying in detox centers are confined to their rooms without group counseling sessions or shared meals.

Online group counseling isn't up and running quite yet.

"There's a loss of the cohesion that comes from group therapy, the idea that 'We're in this together.' We have to figure out how to work through that so that people get the full experience they need and the treatment they need," Murphy said.

"We’re built on this principle at Bridgeway that it's the relationship that heals. And we've been able to build strong relationships between our staff, our providers, and our patients that come in. And we've been able to do that through really close personal connections," he said.

He points to telehealth services as a bright spot for Bridgeway. Before COVID-19, all counseling sessions at Bridgeway were held in one of Marion County's nine clinics. Now, people can connect wherever they are via video conference. Once staff training is complete, people will engage in group counseling from home too.

For some people living in far reaches of Marion County, that saves about two hours of driving, Murphy said. When restrictions ease, they may choose to stick with the telehealth model.

"I project, in a few months, when people come to Bridgeway as a new client, we'll be asking them, 'Would you prefer to come to the clinic? Or would you prefer to receive services at home?' So there are some opportunities in all this tragedy and disruption," he said.

Before opening Bridgeway, Murphy was the administrative director of psychiatric services at Salem Hospital, and he's one of the founders of Liberty House, the child abuse assessment center in Salem.

He's been in leadership positions for decades. It's hard to be in charge at the moment, he said.

"It's also engaging. I was saying to someone the other day that when this is over, I want to go back to working how I used to work, because I wasn't working as hard," he said.

But he knows this is a struggle he shares with other leaders in Salem. Every time he logs onto a Rotary Club meeting via Zoom, he's reminded of that.

"We're all trying to figure out how best to keep our staff safe. We want to keep our staff engaged, and we want to be inspirational to those that look to us for support and maintain our services," he said.

Bridgeway Recovery Services accepts self-referrals for care. The organization works with the Oregon Health Plan and private health insurance companies. Funds are available for those that need help but can't pay for care. To find out more about detox services, call (503) 399-5597. Call (503) 363-2021 with all other inquiries.

Tim Murphy, CEO of Bridgeway Recovery Services, points out photos of several of the organization's facilities on Wednesday, April 22. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

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