The recovery coach project focuses on patients who come into the emergency room at St. Mary’s because of an overdose.
Hospital staff call a peer coach, another person who has experience opioid addiction, to meet with the addict after they’ve been revived.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi says the effort is critical as opioid addiction rises.
“We have to get in on the front end and do everything we can to help folks recover,” Parisi says.
Parisi included $15,000 in his 2017 county budget to help Safe Communities fund the program. That money pays for the peer coaches to be on call at the hospital Friday through Sunday.
Skye Tikkanen is the drug poisoning prevention manager at Safe Communities, the nonprofit that partners with Dane County and the Wisconsin Medical Society to run the pilot program at St Mary’s.
She says pilot has been hugely successful so far. Eighty seven percent of patients who are paired with a peer coach go into treatment shortly after they leave the hospital.
“Our coaches have made some really long and lasting relationships with some of our participants, and have really truly helped them to get connected, not only with treatment but also the recovery community,” Tikkanen says.
Not only does the effort benefit patients, but since the peer coaches are also people who have suffered from addiction, they’re able to find work that’s meaningful — even if they might have a criminal history.
“I am a person in long term recovery from heroin addiction and knowing that I have something to give back to the community and having the community recognize that people who are in recovery are a vital resource and can help others has been pretty amazing,” Tikkanen says. “It really does build our self worth to give back.
Melissa Fisher, Director of Emergency Services at St Mary’s, says the program helps people recover in ways health care professionals often can’t on their own.
“My very first overdose patient was a 16-year-old-girl,” Fisher says. “I just think, what if we had been able to reach her with a program like this.”
Now the program is expanding to other hospitals in Wisconsin, with the hope that one day it will be adopted statewide.
Additionally, Tikkanen says they’re expanding the program to include quote “high risk pregnancies,” or pregnant women in delivery rooms who are also addicted to opioids.
Wisconsin Voices for Recovery at the UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies is administering a federal grant to employ recovery coaches throughout Wisconsin.
Safe Communities plans to apply for some of those funds — which are available following recommendations from Governor Scott Walker’s task force on opioid abuse.