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BISAC to Reconnect With Rural Communities; Offer Mental Health, Substance Abuse Treatment

By Tiffany DeMasters
June 24, 2021, 10:34 AM HST
* Updated July 8, 11:36 AM
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After a nearly two-year hiatus, the Big Island Substance Abuse Council (BISAC) will return to Hawai‘i Island’s rural communities, offering mental health and substance abuse treatment services.

Due to health and crowd restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, BISAC has been unable to provide its normal outreach to residents in rural areas. That changes next month.

In July, the nonprofit will hold two drive-thru events, one in Hawī and the other in Nā‘ālehu, to provide food and resources on mental health and substance abuse. The events are meant to reintroduce their organization to residents and rekindle community partnerships.

“We’re really excited,” said Hannah Preston-Pita, chief executive officer for BISAC. “Even without COVID, it’s a way to celebrate community and build partnerships.”

BISAC will partner with the Food Basket to host its first drive-thru on July 20 in Hawī at the Kohala Village HUB, located at 55-514 Hawī Road, from 10 a.m. to noon. The organization will hold a second drive-thru event on July 27 at the Nā‘ālehu Hangwanji Mission, located at 95-5695 Hawai‘i Belt Road from 9:30-11 a.m., as part of the ‘Ohana Food Drop hosted the Food Basket.

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Preston-Pita said food boxes for up to 200 families will be provided at the events. Along with food, therapy kits available for the children will be backpacks filled with a blanket, a stuffed animal, coloring books, food and more.

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Additionally, BISAC will offer telehealth for mental health and substance abuse treatment in North Kohala and Ka‘ū Districts and be present in both communities five days a week starting in September.

“We learned a lot from COVID,” Preston-Pita said. “We were able to see things that worked for our clients,” adding she excited about the telehealth offering.

BISAC will work with the HUB to ensure their services are available to residents in North Kohala.

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Joël Tan, director of social impact at the HUB, said the partnership allows for the two organizations to meet the community’s practical needs post-pandemic.

“It’s a way for us to reintroduce BISAC and much-needed services to our community,” Tan said. “It’s a gesture of goodwill.”

Tan said BISAC’s telehealth offering is an “exciting revolution of services” to bring back drug and alcohol treatment, adding more organizations in the community are taking interest in addressing these issues.

“Everybody that I’ve mentioned this (BISAC’s telehealth service) to they’ve communicated relief, urgency and gratitude,” Tan said. “These services are needed now more than ever.”

According to Tan, BISAC will provide drug and alcohol recovery training so they can better identify and address the issues.

Currently, BISAC annually services 1,200 individuals. Since the pandemic started in March last year, Preston-Pita added BISAC has seen a 10% increase in clientele but expects that number to go up.

“What we’re seeing more is we’re getting calls from people who aren’t normally seeking treatment, people who are not getting in trouble with the law,” she said. “The next wave of issues is the physiological and emotional burden where people are turning to substances to cope.”

Preston-Pita and Tan predict it will be the toughest for people when things start to normalize.

“We’re all just responding to the world as it reemerges,” Tan said.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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