February 15, 2024

Compass Program hopes to help fill care gap amid opioid crisis

A exterior look at the UW Health 1102 S Park St Clinic in Madison, Wis.
UW Health 1102 S Park St Clinic in Madison, Wis.

MADISON, Wis. – Many people struggling with opioid use in Wisconsin who want to seek help find the health care system cannot easily help them; a new program at UW Health is designed to change that.

In late January, UW Health opened a walk-in care program at the 1102 S Park St Clinic for people with substance use disorder and primarily opioid use disorder, including those without health insurance.

This program fills a crucial gap in the health care system where many people seeking care want help, but either they do not have a relationship with a medical provider or they do not have insurance and cannot afford the help they want, according to Dr. Elizabeth Salisbury-Afshar, medical director, Compass Program, and addiction medicine physician, UW Health.

“Our goal is to meet people where they are, to provide a welcoming health care environment where people struggling with substance use disorders feel welcome and safe,” she said.

The clinical team can prescribe medications for opioid use disorder, provide basic wound care, hepatitis testing and treatment, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment and basic family planning services.

The program is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays and Fridays, and sees patients who walk in on a first-come, first-served basis. Patients can also be referred by a primary care physician, or an urgent care, emergency department or state agency, and is open to people with or without insurance.

The program design has another distinct advantage for the population it intends so serve, according to Salisbury-Afshar.

Traditionally, some people rely on public transportation or need to arrange child care and cannot always get to an appointment on time. They might have been waiting weeks to see a provider and if they miss the appointment, they face another weeks-long wait, she said.

However, walk-in programs are not as beholden to a schedule, so we see patients when they arrive, Salisbury-Afshar said.

“If you’re taking two buses to get here, you might be late,” she said. “Folks have a lot of different struggles they are working through, and whatever it is we know there are reasons people can’t always get to their appointments on time, which is one of the reasons we created this more flexible model.”

The program is supported by a state-funded grant that covers the cost of medical services, labs and medication treatments for substance use disorder for individuals without insurance.

The clinic is not a detox facility, but the team will work with patients who need higher levels of care and help link them to those services, Salisbury-Afshar said.

Leaders of the Compass Program plan to expand it over time, but for now the two-day-a-week program is a great first step to ensuring those who want to make a change in their lives, but maybe couldn’t in the past, have the chance to get help, she said.

“If you are interested in receiving care related to your substance use, we are here and happy to work with you,” Salisbury-Afshar said.