The Baraboo SSM Health Treatment and Recovery Center will close its doors June 15, further limiting what many health officials view as a shortage of assistance programs for drug addiction across the state.
SSM Health St. Clare Hospital spokesperson Melanie Platt-Gibson said changing regulations at the state and federal level, coupled with qualified staff shortages and lack of reimbursement funding have put the rehab center for alcoholism and other drug addictions on an unsustainable path.
“It is all three in tandem that led us to this decision over time,” she said.
The Treatment and Recovery Center has operated since 1986 and currently offers inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment, along with aftercare services to about 45 patients. Platt-Gibson said staff is working with Sauk County, Tellurian and other service providers to assist patients after the Treatment and Recovery Center closes.
“Most of them are going to complete their treatment program either on or before June 15,” she said. “Then the balance of the patients who do require ongoing treatment, they’re working one-on-one right now with our care counselors to create customized transition planning for continuation of services.”
Platt-Gibson said the Treatment and Recovery Center closure will affect 4.5 full-time equivalent positions. She said the healthcare center’s human resources department is working with employees to explore other positions within SSM Health that match their skill sets.
Brian Butts, a former patient of the Treatment and Recover Center, said he believes the looming closure exacerbates a shortage of treatment options for people who struggle with addiction. He said interacting with patients who shared similar experiences at the Treatment and Recovery Center played an integral role in his sobriety, and he returns monthly to share his story with others.
“For people like me, we have these little windows of willingness to open up, where we do enough damage to ourselves and we’re finally ready to do something about it,” he said. “You make the call, and they say, ‘We can get you in four to six weeks from now.’ Now that’s going to be even worse because there are even less options available.”
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Sauk County, as well as the rest of the nation, is facing an addiction epidemic. Overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans under 50, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A 2016 report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows rates of drug-related death, injury and hospitalization in Sauk County are higher than state averages. About 70 percent of drug overdose deaths in Sauk County are due to opioids, with most resulting from prescription painkillers, but also heroin and fentanyl, according to the Health Department.
Tellurian Program Supervisor Connie Champion said the addiction treatment center is in the early stages of working with SSM Health to address the increased need for services following the closure of the Treatment and Recovery Center. Sauk County’s Department of Human Services hired Tellurian to operate a treatment program in Baraboo for people addicted to heroin and pain pills after securing a $1 million federal grant in August 2015.
The addiction services employs 4.5 full-time equivalent recovery specialists in Sauk and Columbia counties, each of whom work with about 20 patients. Tellurian provides inpatient treatment and assists patients with employment, housing, medication and other services. While the local caseload is largely in step with other counties across the state, Champion said the need for qualified addiction specialists and treatment programs is growing.
“There’s a shortage of these kinds of services,” she said. “That’s my personal opinion, but I’m going to guess that police, (district attorneys), county officials and Tellurian would probably already agree with that.”
In addition to the shortage of services, Butts said he also sees a lack of education and understanding of addiction and its effects. He shares his story with others as a way to raise awareness of the debilitating disease.
“I see way too often in healthcare a fundamental misunderstanding of what addiction really is,” he said. “The attitude is that alcoholics and addicts are a nuisance; they’re annoying, so you get them stable and you send them on their way because they’re not going to quit. It’s so misunderstood.”
While education and public awareness are priorities, Champion said the greatest challenge facing addiction service providers like Tellurian continues to be securing funding.
“If we had the money coming from somewhere, we could flourish and do more and more things,” she said. “Now it’s more about deciding what can get done with what we have.”