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Milwaukee-area hospitals now offering opioid-recovery coaches

Posted at 9:18 PM, Mar 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-06 23:24:11-05

A local hospital system is trying to cut down the number of repeat opioid overdoses seen in emergency rooms across the state.

Ascension now offers Drug Recovery Coaches at three Milwaukee area hospitals. The coaches are on call 24/7 to come and meet with patients recovering in the ER from an overdose.

Dr. Julie Doniere saw the need for change while working her shifts in the ER. Generally those with overdoses come in not breathing, their heart stopped. Doniere says bringing them back isn't the hard part, it's helping them kick the addiction to opioids.

"Prior to recovery coaches we'd give people a slip of paper, here are the list of places you can follow up with," Dr. Doniere said. "The one piece of the puzzle was the treatment after they left our doors. That’s what we are trying to do with this recovery coach program, is to get people help to find help."

Doniere saw a state funded program to bring Recovery Coaches to emergency rooms, and with the help of Ascension, wrote a grant and received the funding for a one year pilot program.

So far the coaches have responded to 241 emergency calls in three emergency rooms: Ascension St. Joseph, Ascension St. Francis, and Ascension Franklin. All of the patients have been connected with treatment programs, 34 are still consistently checking in with their coach every week.

Wesley Vanepps is the Operations Coordinator for the coaches and a recovering addict himself.

"We’re here to help them, we can relate. We know what they’ve been through, some of our recovery coaches have been here before due to substance abuse," Vanepps said.

He says there is instant trust between the patients and the coaches. That helps in the long run too.

"We are consistently following up with them and sometimes even if they don’t answer the next day we are going to continue to follow up with them," Vanepps said.

The program started in October and the hope is to make it permanent according to Dr. Doniere. There are currently 26 recovery coaches responding to the three emergency rooms.