WestCare, a collective of nonprofit health and human service organizations, opened its second community triage center Downtown in December (323 N. Maryland Pkwy.). Since its inception more than 40 years ago, WestCare has been a lighthouse for those suffering from alcohol and drug addiction or mental disorders.
“The whole idea behind a triage is [it’s a place where the] community can find safety, sanctuary and a full continuum of [services] to meet their needs,” says Bob Vickrey, director of the triage center.
For the men and women struggling with addiction, WestCare’s triage center offers a lifeline. It keeps its doors open and its lights on 24/7 for those in need of drug or alcohol detoxification. While many of the clients Vickrey sees are walk-ins, some are brought in by first responders such as Las Vegas Metro and Fire and Rescue.
“We actually have a separate contract with Metro under Civil Protective Custody [in which] officers can lawfully offer a person who is inebriated on the street, or anywhere for that matter, the choice to come to WestCare detox or face charges of public drunkenness and go to jail,” he explains.
This is similar to the dilemma Vickrey found himself in when he was younger and addicted to heroin. “I couldn’t do anything but look for the next balloon of heroin. And that took me to places I couldn’t imagine,” he says. “WestCare reached out to me [when] I was in a jail cell.”
Through the facility’s intervention, the director says he “became the person that could suit up and show up for life.”
Upon arriving at WestCare, patients are stabilized and assessed by a full-time medical staff and prescribed necessary medications for withdrawal management by a psychiatrist. After that, they’re encouraged to relax.
“WestCare was one of those few facilities, and the only one that I still know of, that will take anybody whether they have insurance or not to get them detoxed.” – Jantz Luna, WestCare case manager
“Keeping in mind that a lot of our clients are coming from the 89101 ZIP code, they’ve been out there. They’ve had a hard go of it. … So their first 14 to 16 hours, we really want them to rest,” Vickrey says. Patients recuperate in rooms encased in glass, providing a 360-degree view of the area for 24-hour monitoring. The triage facility’s Maryland Parkway location has 51 beds and provides medical detox services, while the one on Fourth Street has 49 beds and offers what is known as “social model detox,” which Vickrey says is for people who just need a bed to sleep off alcohol intoxication. Fourth Street’s location doubles as a “step down” for the center when patients complete medical detox, but need a few extra days to see a case manager and find a safe and suitable place to go.
The goal is to have medication protocols completed within 48 hours so a discharge plan can be implemented.
“Once the client is stabilized, almost immediately we have that [case manager] in the room … [asking], ‘Where are you going to go next? What’s your next step? How can we provide some wrap-around services that’ll help you with where you are right now?’” Vickrey explains.
It’s easy for many of WestCare’s case managers to build that rapport with clients because most went through some vein of the program themselves. Case manager Jantz Luna is one such example. His struggle with methamphetamines began after he lost his job during the recession. Luna says with so much time on his hands, searching for a new job, he fell in with the wrong people and started to use.
“When I finally got to that point where I knew I needed professional help, there [weren’t] that many options available because I didn’t have health insurance,” he says. “WestCare was one of those few facilities, and the only one that I still know of, that will take anybody whether they have insurance or not to get them detoxed.”
Upon hitting the two-year mark of his sobriety, Luna applied as a behavioral health tech for WestCare. He was later promoted to case manager, where he now helps patients figure out the next step, whether that’s connecting a homeless individual with in-patient and residential treatment programs or helping a recovering mother rebuild a bond with her kids through WestCare’s partner, Healthy Families. Luna makes sure to follow up with patients, too, after they are discharged.
In treatment, WestCare takes patients’ well-being just as seriously. Two glassed-off rooms separate the facility’s main doors from the lobby area. This is where walk-ins wait to be brought in by staff. For safety purposes, Vickrey advises against bringing anything into the facility for patients. Vickrey says sometimes they keep female patients who’ve been domestically abused longer than a few days. “We don’t want to send the person back out there for a chance encounter with the person who’s violating them in that way,” he explains. WestCare works with numerous organizations such as Safe Nest to intervene in such circumstances.
Vickrey sees some of the same patients return for the same reasons. But sometimes they return just to express their gratitude. The director recalls a former patient who visited the facility with 90 days of sobriety under her belt. Well into her 12-step program, the woman was asked by her sponsor to return to the rehab center to show her appreciation. “She brought flowers and a card,” Vickrey says. “We put it up in the front. The card said, ‘Thank you for saving my life.’”