‘They can’t wait that long’: When some wait lists take months, new addiction treatment clinic aims to help within a day

Monarch Health in downtown Madison holds open house

MADISON, Wis. – As the pandemic contributes to a rise in substance abuse and overdoses, a new clinic in Madison is filling a gap in resources.

“We like to bill ourselves as a one-stop shop for opioid and alcohol recovery,” said Dr. Michael Repplinger, Monarch Health’s program director.

At the same time Monarch Health on East Washington Avenue is welcoming community members, hosting on open house Wednesday, the treatment clinic is doing the same thing for patients.

“We want to have an environment that’s welcoming and shows patients they should value themselves as people,” Repplinger said.

He helped develop the program, down to the building design.

“It came out of my frustration working in the emergency department, not really having a steady place to refer patients to for continued care, at least in the time frame that they needed it,” Repplinger said. “Frequently, there would be one- to three-month-long wait lists to get patients into outpatient care. When I’m seeing an overdose victim in the ER, they can’t wait that long.”

That’s as data shows an increase in overdoses last year, often attributed by health experts to the pandemic.

“From the previous peak in 2017 to the past year during COVID, there was a 20 to 25% increase in the number of opioid overdoses in Dane County alone,” Repplinger said, referencing numbers from Dane County Emergency Management. “That’s really kind of an astounding number. To think when we were worried years ago, we’re actually worse that that now.”

When COVID cut down on in-person care, Monarch Health aims to open it back up.

That means medication-assisted treatment, individual and group counseling, case management and onsite lab testing, along with a guaranteed visit within a business day of a referral.

“The reason is, I have seen what happens when we don’t do that as a community. What happens is people overdose and die,” Repplinger said. “I just was frustrated with the process, frustrated with the outcomes being realized, and wanted to make a difference.”

The majority of Monarch Health’s patients use Medicaid, although Repplinger said they accept most major insurers in the area. He encouraged anyone interested in services to give them a call at (608)729-9388.

“Literally call us,” he said. “We can probably get you in same day.”

Monarch Health isn’t meant to replace other resources, Repplinger said, but rather to fill a gap. He pointed to other services in the area, including the Dane County Behavioral Health Resource Center, which began operations in November.

Opening its doors in September, Monarch Health has already helped many patients get back to their lives.

“They are frequently coming in with significant use issues, usually in withdrawal by the time I see them,” Repplinger said. “To see them, within months, turn their lives around, have housing, repaired relationships with friends and family and feel, as they say, ‘back to normal’ again, that’s really a remarkable thing.”