BENNINGTON — Turning Point Center's new head wants to strengthen the organization's existing programs, particularly its emergency room recovery support.
Since August 2018, the center has been collaborating with Southwestern Vermont Medical Center on offering peer recovery coaching to people who go to the hospital emergency room following an overdose or substance abuse issue.
The hospital connects patients with one of the center's peer coaches, who then helps them get on the road to recovery. The coaches' assistance may involve getting clients into a treatment facility, encouraging them to join an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting or referring them to food pantries.
The ER program, established through a state grant, serves as an "entry point" to long-term recovery for people with a substance abuse problem, said Tom Haley, a peer recovery coach who became Turning Point's executive director in May.
"I want people to be aware that there are resources available to them," Haley said in an interview at his office, which features a rack of recovery bracelets. "A lot of people just don't know where to go or where to start."
The nonprofit, located at 465 Main St., is now looking for more female recovery coaches in response to the growing number of local women who need help.
"We encounter a number of younger women in the emergency department who suffer from opiate abuse," Haley, 69, said. "I think the best peer recovery coach they can have is a woman who is in recovery from the same substance."
It's important for people in recovery to be able to identify with their coaches, Haley added. Peer recovery coaches are people in long-term recovery themselves.
Turning Point currently has 13 recovery coaches, five of whom are women.
Haley, a Bennington native who has been a Turning Point recovery coach for three years, took the helm of the organization from Joan Walsh. Walsh returned to the center as interim director after Ken Sigsbury left the post around the beginning of 2019.
Turning Point's board of directors declined to discuss the reasons for Sigsbury's departure, with board vice chairwoman Mary Gerisch saying "personnel matters are entirely confidential."
Gerisch's emphasis on the importance of confidentiality came on the heels of the settlement of a civil case filed by a former Turning Point employee. The plaintiff claimed Sigsbury disclosed her private medical information to others at Turning Point and that had created an "intolerable work environment."
Gerisch declined to comment when asked whether Sigsbury's departure was related to the lawsuit, which was filed in August 2018.
Turning Point's board, Gerisch said, is expecting Haley's leadership to provide the nonprofit with stability. The organization's immediate priorities are to reach out to more potential clients, grow community collaborations and work to remove the stigma surrounding substance abuse.
The board chose Haley as executive director because of his expertise and experience regarding recovery, Gerisch said. "He totally understands what is necessary to help the population who is suffering from substance misuse disease," she said.
Haley is inviting people to stop in at Turning Point and learn more about its programs and services. The center, he underscored, is open to everyone.
"If anybody walks in from Mars and says, 'I can't do this anymore,' I'll say, 'Come in.'"
Contact Tiffany Tan at email@example.com, @tiffgtan on Twitter or 802-447-7567 ext. 122.