Guest blog: Elly Carpenter, chemical dependency counselor and supervisor, talks about a program her team passionately provides to a specific community, in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month. 

Fairview Health Services is proud to provide a one-of-a-kind program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people all over the United States and Canada in need of addiction services. The Minnesota Chemical Dependency Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals was first established at Fairview in 1989, and many people from this community have found their way to us over the past 28 years.

Fairview offers many mental health and substance abuse services. In fact, we’re one of the largest providers of behavioral health services in the state and region, however, we’re particularly proud to provide high-quality, integrated care for this often underserved community.

Our chemical dependency program for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is likely the only hospital-based offering of this kind in the nation.

Being “hospital-based” means that our patients are not only able to benefit from chemical dependency services but also have access to the multitude of services the hospital offers including counseling centers, spiritual care, medical services (as needed), psychiatric services, workshops and detox services, among others.

So, why a Deaf and Hard of Hearing program?  Two words sum it up for me: language and culture.

I was aware of American Sign Language (ASL) as a kid, but it wasn’t until I became an interpreting student 18 years ago that I realized that Deaf people not only have a beautiful language but also a culture of their own. ASL, like any language, is a great connector for people with hearing loss.

Imagine being a child and not being able to hear or understand your own parents. Most Deaf people are born into Hearing families that often do not learn ASL. We have heard many stories of patients feeling left out from a very young age on. Perhaps a comparison would be an English-speaking, Hearing person sitting at dinner with all Spanish speakers and how difficult that might be.

Imagine all the information shared by the spoken word through media, meetings, schools, in public places, in offices and everywhere. Our Deaf and Hard of Hearing patients experience many barriers including a lack of services and a lack of interpreters. Those barriers impact their ability to find help for their addiction and, ultimately, their well-being.

In our chemical dependency program, direct communication in ASL is available seven days-a-week, all day long and into the late evening. This is a dream come true for many of our patients who have struggled in hearing programs. They are also able to be a part of a peer group that shares their language and culture. In addition, we provide accessible materials such as DVDs in ASL and, of course, interpreters as needed.

Our team that runs the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program is keenly aware of cultural differences and the unique needs within this community. We design it to be respectful and attentive to those needs.

It is here at Fairview and the University of Minnesota Medical Center that many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people feel blessed to be in a program that uses their native language and find culturally-competent care that addresses their unique struggles.

It’s truly a one-of-a-kind offering.

For additional information, call: 612-273-4402 (voice) or 651-964-1427 (videophone)