Image Caption: In August, two ThedaCare CHAT teams hosted a PLUNGE event focusing on addiction. Dr. Mike Miller served as the keynote speaker for the event.
December 10, 2019
WAUPACA COUNTY COMMUNITY HEALTH COLLABORATORS ADDRESS DRUG USE AND RECOVERY
Drug Court, Sober-Living Houses and Recovery Coalition Work Together to Support Recovering Community Members
WAUPACA, Wis. – In 2013, the Waupaca Community Health Action Team, or CHAT, led by ThedaCare, held its first plunge on the use of drugs and alcohol in the region. Early efforts included successful drug take-back events. This was followed by the launch of a Heroin Task Force. The task force and CHAT team went on to develop three major long-term drug-related initiatives. The Waupaca County Drug Court was established in 2017, two sober-living Oxford Houses were opened in 2018 and 2019, and this fall the Waupaca County Recovery Coalition was formed. Three years in, these systemic solutions are helping people and agencies be more successful.
ThedaCare-led CHAT teams invite local leaders to study critical health issues, and then work together to develop long-term systemic solutions. CHAT teams are facilitated by ThedaCare and serve communities throughout Northeast and Central Wisconsin.
“Community led coalitions are essential contributors to public health,” said Jed Wohlt, Health Officer with Waupaca County Department of Health & Human Services. “Our CHAT groups have led impactful initiatives that have addressed some of our recognized local health priorities. The efforts of CHAT have had an impact in helping to achieve better health in our community.”
ThedaCare is one part of Waupaca’s strong and intentional community response to the drug and alcohol problem facing the community.
“Early on, we facilitated these long-term discussions with the goal of developing feasible and timely solutions,” said Tracey Ratzburg, a Community Health Improvement Coordinator with ThedaCare. “We are there to create a space for the conversation and ideas to emerge and take hold.”
“We understand that drug-related issues have a ripple effect on our residents,” said Chief Brian Hoelzel, Waupaca Police. “If we can work with other community organizations to help address those issues, we can look to the future, creating a better community for all.”
Drug Court Start Up
Aaron Holt, the Waupaca County Drug Court coordinator, explained the drug court is an alternative to criminal court for adults charged with felony drug use or drug-related crimes. Participants have a diagnosed substance abuse disorder, are assessed in advance to determine if the drug court is a good fit for them, and do not have a record of violence or sex-related crime. They plead guilty to their drug crimes and receive deferred or stayed sentences that are erased if they successfully complete treatment, stay sober, and improve life and job skills.
“The drug court process takes a minimum of 14 months and five phases of recovery, including drug tests two to four times per week, facilitated by ThedaCare, and weekly court appearances,” he explained. “The program collaborates with community resources to provide sober housing, job placement, schooling and driver-licensing.”
Holt’s most recent report reflects the cost savings of the program in its first 18 months of operation compared to traditional incarceration without supportive services. So far, the program had 15 active participants and three graduates. The graduates spent a total of 1396 days in the program. According to Holt, at $98.89 per day to incarcerate versus $31.05 per day in the program, the community saved nearly $95,000 on the three graduates in hard costs, not including additional victim, criminal, health care and traditional court costs had they committed new crimes or used other community services during their time spent in drug court.
“Participants tell us drug court is intense,” said Holt. “I think that means that we are doing our job well.”
Sober Living Homes
Drug court participants also now have the added support of men’s and women’s sober-living houses in Waupaca. Established in October 2018 and May 2019, respectively, the two Oxford Houses follow a proven model to operate as democratically run, self-supporting and drug-free homes.
Vicki Poeschl, a Waupaca CHAT team member, took a lead role in helping establish the homes after seeing her son, Michael Schultz, volunteer for Waupaca County Drug Court.
“The missing link was sober living houses,” she said. “Michael and I did some research and recommended the Oxford House model to the CHAT team. With the team's endorsement, we started by writing grants. Then the people just touched my heart, and I haven’t looked back.”
PoeschI invited Jeannie and Bill Bode to join the Oxford House task force. The task force applied for and received a $50,000 grant from the Tim and Joy Neuville Family Fund within the Waupaca Area Community Foundation. The monies were awarded to the ThedaCare Family of Foundations and designated to fund the salary for the Oxford House outreach worker and furnishings for the two houses. Bill Bode, a local real estate developer, went on to purchase two homes in Waupaca to house the separate Oxford Houses for men and women. He and Jeannie continue to fill the role of landlords. Initial renovations, furnishings, neighborhood meetings and volunteer labor were facilitated by task force members.
Today, Jeannie Bode and Vicki Poeschl continue to attend weekly house meetings to reinforce the Oxford House model. Run by the residents themselves, Oxford House residents vote, elect their leadership, interview and determine new members and resolve conflicts. They are also responsible for the costs of maintaining the house and paying rent.
“There is an opportunity to provide more safe places during the first phases of recovery,” Aaron Holt said of Waupaca County Drug Court participants. “The Oxford Houses have reduced some of the stigma around addiction and prove there is a way out. We also see more peer support and places to go in the community because some of our graduates have started recovery groups.”
Waupaca County Recovery Coalition
As The Waupaca County Drug Court marks its successful two-year anniversary in November, the work continues. A newly-formed Waupaca County Recovery Coalition, co-chaired by Margo Dieck, community health educator at the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services, and Barb Metzig, a Registered Nurse with ThedaCare, has held its first meeting. The group was formed to further identify gaps in services for people experiencing alcohol and other drug addiction in the county. The coalition hopes to achieve 501(c)3 status and raise funds to continue to build awareness and capacity around addiction and available community services.
“Public health, law enforcement, healthcare, and people in active recovery are all in the room,” said Margo Dieck, a co-chair of the Waupaca County Recovery Coalition. “Our goal is to sustain and improve our existing programs and continue to collaborate on new ideas.”
For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to a community of more than 600,000 residents in 14 counties and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals. ThedaCare has 180 locations including seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, New London, Shawano, Waupaca and Wild Rose. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.
Media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public Relations Specialist at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.