The Vermont Department of Health has launched VTHelplink, a new, single source clearinghouse for Vermonters to receive free, confidential and personalized information and referrals to substance use prevention, treatment and recovery services throughout the state.
“The global pandemic has not erased the continued urgent need for substance use-related services for Vermonters,” said Health Commissioner Mark Levine, MD. “In fact, the extraordinary steps required to stop the spread of COVID-19 creates new challenges for people living with substance use disorder to get the services they need.”
VTHelplink features a call center of trained staff and clinicians. Callers can get information, referrals, resources and educational materials on substance use for themselves, family and friends, or on behalf of clients.
Also at VTHelplink.org is an online screening tool that Vermonters can use to learn about treatment options that meet their needs. People can also securely chat online with call center staff through the website.
“These are more than simply difficult times, and we have no more important a mission than to do everything we can to create an infrastructure that bridges the challenges we face during this pandemic. VTHelplink is key resource for anyone who needs or wants to get treatment and succeed in their recovery,” said Dr. Levine. “We are all in this together, and we will persevere.”
Those in need can also reach VTHelplink by dialing 802-565-LINK (5465). The call center is open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends and holidays, 365 days per year. Or visit VTHelplink.org.
Local Alcoholics Anonymous groups have mostly continued with online meetings, according to a statement from The Wilson House, which hosts many AA meetings each week. (Bill Wilson, for whom the Wilson House in Dorset, Vermont, was named, was the founder of AA.)
Rutland Regional Medical Center’s West Ridge Center has also implemented changes, according to Faith Stone, the center’s director. West Ridge is a medication assisted out-patient treatment program for people diagnosed with opioid dependence.
“We have substantially decreased the foot traffic in and out of West Ridge,” Stone said. “There has been no interruption in medication for folks.”
Like other providers, she said, in appropriate cases, patients are receiving more than a daily dose of their medication.
The facility, she added, remains open for new admissions. “I have no idea what the access to illicit substances is out there on the streets right now,” Stone said “But now maybe this is the time that’ll push people to treatment.”
Kurt White, senior director of ambulatory services at the Brattleboro Retreat, also said the facility has taken several steps in response to the COVID-19. “We’re doing quite a bit more with screening people for COVID-19 at the front door and not having people be in waiting rooms or groups and keeping social distancing so that therapists will sit more than six feet away from them,” he said.
Staff are also taking part in counseling sessions with clients on video through online services, and in some “limited” cases in person, White said. And, he said, inpatient services are still available with screening for patients for COVID-19. “Inpatient services are operating currently,” he said.
“Epidemics like this hit the most vulnerable populations much harder than they do individuals with certain sorts of privilege and protections,” White said. “And, and if you’re struggling with an addictive illness, then very likely you’re struggling with some kind of significant marginalization and vulnerability that is going to make you more at risk.”
He added, “We are very much wanting people to know help is still out there.”
Alan Keays of VTDigger contributed to this report.