Hayley Avino’s brother, Jeremy Plummer, was the inspiration behind the DREAMER Project. Plummer struggled with addiction for years and was able to attain sobriety and remain in recovery after incorporating group fitness and mindfulness into his daily routine.

Two ASU doctoral nursing students have partnered with Scottsdale-based residential addiction treatment center Hope House to provide expanded treatment options for patients amid the pandemic.

As part of Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation students’ program, titled “The DREAMER Project: Defying Relapse through Exercise and Mindfulness to Extend Recovery,” Hayley Avino and Courtney Routson work directly with Hope House patients, providing mindfulness, exercise and healthy-living sessions.

“We were impressed by the experience Avino and Routson had in healthcare, fitness, and mindfulness. We felt that we could merge our values and ideas to create a unique experience,” said Alex Spritzer, nurse practitioner at the Hope House, which provides inpatient residential addiction treatment.

Expanding on the holistic treatment options already provided by the Hope House, the nine-week program started Sept. 27.

So far, Avino and Routson have worked with more than 20 patients. 

“It’s really great so far,” Avino said.

Three times a week, Avino and Routson hold hour-long treatment sessions on ongoing physical exercise and mindfulness, respectively.

Via Zoom, Avino and Routson host Serenity Saturdays, Sober Sundays, and Wellness Wednesdays.

On Wellness Wednesdays, patients learn about the foundations of health, including proper diet, hydration, the importance of sleep and more.

On Serenity Saturdays, Routson teaches patients the seven pillars of mindfulness, including non-judging and acceptance, among other lessons.

And on Sober Sundays – what Avino and Routson say are their patients’ favorite day – Avino teaches them cool-down exercise routines like yoga and guides them through short meditations.  

“The most rewarding part is watching these clients really improve,” Routson said. “There’s this welling up of joy, and you don’t even know this person. You’ve seen them virtually three times, and all of a sudden, you’re just super excited.”

Together, the doctoral nursing students lead what Routson describes as a “mind-body holistic approach” to reducing relapse in clients at the Hope House.

“Based on my personal experience of how the current treatment of addiction in the United States failed my brother, time and time again, I wanted to look into alternative methods or alternative pathways that may be helpful for those who are trying to overcome their addiction,” Avino said.

Avino’s brother, Jeremy Plummer, struggled with addiction for years and it wasn’t until he incorporated group fitness and mindfulness into his daily routine that he was able to remain in recovery.

“I want to create the academic foundation that proves exercise has a positive impact on sobriety,” Avino said.

According to Spritzer, the program has already proven to be a valuable addition to their recovery curriculum. 

“One client provided feedback that they look forward to every group with Avino and Routson and it helps them prioritize recovery knowing they have a passion to pursue for their life-long journey,” Spritzer said. 

“Others have reported reduced anxiety, reduced stress, improved mental clarity, and a greater sense of recovery as a result of doing the program,” he added.

“We believe in giving our patients as many tools as possible. Mindfulness practices and exercise routines are just two of those tools,” said Brenna Gonzales, clinical director at Hope House. “Future students could develop programs on nutrition, aftercare, or even something as cutting-edge as virtual reality treatment.”

According to Gonzales, COVID-19 has led to a significant increase in substance abuse and, subsequently, the need for addiction treatment in the state.

“I would say about 75 percent (of patients) that are coming in right now are specifically citing COVID as a catalyst to seeking treatment,” Gonzales told ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

Thus, Avino and Routson divided the program into three three-week courses, allowing them to treat as many patients as possible.

“Over the five-year partnership [between ASU’s Edson College of Nursing & Health Innovation and the Hope House], it is estimated that approximately 1,100 patients will be impacted by the partnership with ASU while focusing on their recovery at the Hope House,” Spritzer said.

Avino said, “I really feel like going to ASU through the doctor of nursing program has placed us in a position that we can actually start making a difference for these people and advocating for addiction all over the country.”

“We put in a lot of hours. A lot went into this project,” Routson added. “So, to see it actually working and the Hope House telling us that it is a positive program for them is probably one of the more rewarding aspects.”

Information: thehopehouse.com, nursingandhealth.asu.edu