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Turning Point offers 24-hour recovery coaching

JENNIFER MAYHEW

“It’s a powerful way to talk to someone when you need a person to understand your circumstances,” she said.
— Jennifer Mayhew

MIDDLEBURY — For people in recovery, temptation never sleeps.

Turning Point Center of Addison County (TPC) Executive Director Jennifer Mayhew knows this, and she and her staff are trying to do something about it. They announced last week the launch of a new “Rapid Access to Recovery Coaches” program that’s giving those battling addiction instant access to a compassionate, steadying presence at any time, with only a few taps on a computer or smart phone screen.

“Some of these conversations need to happen in the middle of the night,” she said. “That window for change, that window of opportunity just to talk to someone who really understands your experience might happen at hours we’re not open. I want us to be available to all people for that support.”

Mayhew believes Addison County’s new “Rapid Access” offering is the first of its kind among the state’s 12 Turning Point Centers.

She explained TPC’s specially trained employees and volunteers currently field calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. The TPC typically hosts a variety of peer support, educational programs and recovery training at 54A Creek Road in Middlebury.

The new Rapid Access program means TPC officials are divvying up late-night shifts and weekends to ensure around-the-clock response to anyone recovering from substance use disorder and other addictions.

Folks seeking to access the new program can log on to turningpointaddisonvt.org, where they can click on a “recovery coach live chat” and tab at the bottom-right portion of the screen. That link takes you to a virtual waiting room, and then to a recovery coach — usually within around 60 seconds, according to Mayhew.

She stressed TPC’s new Rapid Access service shouldn’t be construed as a “crisis line” staffed with professional counselors. It’s an option for people who might feel depressed and at risk of re-using substances, and who could use a friendly ear and encouragement to stay clean and sober.

That’s not to say TPC’s peer coaches are winging it when they converse with callers. They’re all specially trained for these conversations, Mayhew stressed.

“It’s a powerful way to talk to someone when you need a person to understand your circumstances,” she said.

The recovery coach link will be embedded in Middlebury police cruiser computers, so that a person in need can get quick access to the service in an emergency, Mayhew said.

Also, TPC has distributed eight computer tablets to area hotels and motels in recognition of the fact that substance abuse disorder is prevalent among the homeless population that’s been staying with local lodging establishments during the pandemic.

Also, TPC has given out more than 300 “harm reduction kits,” also known as “recovery bags,” containing Narcan and fentanyl test strips.

Mayhew pointed to state statistics showing a 38% increase in overdose deaths during the pandemic, and more than 80% of those deaths are attributed to fentanyl.

She explained that while the ultimate goal is to eliminate elicit use of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid — the test strips can at least let users know if the fentanyl they’ve obtained has been altered in a way that makes it even more dangerous.

“We’re a harm-reduction model, not an absence model,” Mayhew said. “We do accept people who are currently using, to provide them support as well.”

Since succeeding former TPC leader Stacey Jones this past fall, Mayhew has been putting her own stamp on the organization. One of her top priorities has been to ramp up staffing, technology and services for area residents recovering from substance use disorder and other addictions.

FUNDING NEEDS

When the COVID-19 pandemic touched down in Addison County 14 months ago, TPC had to shutter its Creek Road headquarters to visitors and went virtual with recovery programming. This transition has been a costly one, as the organization has to revamp and expand its computer system and hire a full-time person to maintain and troubleshoot it.

The TPC currently has nine full- and part-time employees, including four off-site recovery coaches. Ideally, Mayhew wants Turning Point’s ranks to grow to 16 — several of whom would be per diem, working around five hours a week — and she believes there’s enough demand in Addison County to warrant it.

Of course more staffing will require more funding, and TPC is looking at many potential sources.

Turning Point Centers of Vermont asked the Legislature this year for a $25,000 increase for each of its 12 centers during fiscal year 2022.

Porter Hospital has provided occasional grants to the center, which in turn has leveraged more state and federal resources for recovery services.

At this point, only 10% of TPC’s annual budget comes from private sources; around 85% is grant-funded. Turning Point also receives financial support from a majority of Addison County communities each Town Meeting Day.

Mayhew acknowledged COVID-related grants have been critical in building TPC’s infrastructure and workforce. And she knows those resources will be reduced, meaning the organization will have to find other revenue sources, or face contraction.

“Coming up with a sustainable funding plan is going to be my next (challenge),” she said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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