On a quiet morning in early May, John Leite's Market Street office in downtown Parkersburg sits empty. In fact, he has barely used the office since he started his role as the SUD Collaborative Director this past March. But that doesn't mean he hasn't been working. His new normal looks like what many others are experiencing -- a work from home schedule that varies based on the number of calls to be made and the number of virtual meetings on the calendar.

Hired in March, John's position was created as a collaboration between several area funders with the goal to improve access to prevention, treatment, and recovery resources by identifying gaps and improving efficiency. While the Mid-Ohio Valley was new to John, this type of work was not.

"My whole career has been focused on healthcare improvement and most recently, I was working with a healthcare collaborative in Columbus, Ohio. All of the positions I've held have had a common component -- to bring people together around a common goal, " said John.

John's early vision in the job was to facilitate conversations around the growing problem of substance use in the Mid-Ohio Valley. To him, that looked like sitting down face-to-face with healthcare providers, counselors, nonprofits, and government entities to talk through the problems and potential solutions. When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, those plans all changed.

"This COVID-19 crisis has changed life for everyone," John said. "For me, it's meant moving these efforts online, participating in webinars, and trying to make forward progress despite the challenges. For those suffering, it's certainly had negative impacts but there have been positives, too."

John shared that the shift to telehealth support has been good for many in the recovery community. "It removed the barrier of transportation for many, though it's too early to tell if telehealth is going to be an effective strategy long-term," he said.

John's work is likely to lead him into new conversations around telehealth services, the impact of social isolation and stress on addiction and relapse, and the challenges of protecting patient data and continuity of care in this rapidly changing situation.

The one thing that's not changing, however, is the goal of the SUD Collaborative. John is determined to bring new knowledge to our community, to create conversations around the real needs of the community, and to coordinate the efforts that bring solutions. As John talks about ideas like working with area employers to explore how they can best help their employees in recovery and how they can create incentive programs to decrease relapse rates, his passion is glaringly obvious. It's clear that no pandemic will hold John back from working toward what he knows is possible to achieve.

"This collaborative is only as good as the folks that are involved in it," he says. "I'll find a way to meet with anyone so we can devise a plan to improve the resources and the system. Everyone deserves that."

To support the Fund for Recovery and help the PACF support the work of organizations fighting to help those suffering from substance use disorders, please give online or contact us at 304-428-4438.