The Western Region Alcohol and other Drug Centre (WRAD) will better meet clients’ needs by establishing a local residential rehabilitation centre. This residential alcohol and other drug centre will be called ‘The lookout’ and will provide a range of services for clients and their families in Warrnambool and the Great South Coast. The problem is evident and quite simply something needs to happen in our community right now.

Specialist alcohol and other drug treatment is effective and brings substantial savings to society. While Warrnambool and the Great South Coast have a range of outpatient services, in addition to hospital-based detoxification, there is little or no access to the most intensive treatment type, namely residential rehabilitation. As noted by key stakeholders from the Great South Coast in recent consultations ‘residential rehabilitation doesn’t exist’, ‘it is the major gap in the system’.

This important service gap was in fact operating as the ‘Bridge program ‘ in Fairy St in Warrnambool for 14 years until 2008 when funding was removed. This residential facility accommodated up to 8 clients.

In 2016 WRAD contracted Dr Lynda Berends, a health services researcher, to explore characteristics of alcohol and other drug clients in the GSC and their access to residential rehabilitation treatment. Lynda’s analysis of service data showed there were 662 clients who sought treatment in 2015-16. Almost all of these clients were severely drug dependent and their most common primary drugs of concern were alcohol (43.9%), cannabis (26.2%), and amphetamines (24.2%).

Substance dependence was not the only problem clients encountered. Many clients suffered from multiple types of social disadvantage; unemployment was high (52.5%), a substantial proportion of clients had some form of criminal justice problem (35.3%) and their risk of homelessness (5.9%) was well above the national average. Familial circumstances were complex too; about a third of clients with dependent children were not living with their children.

It takes courage to seek alcohol and other drug treatment given the stigma attached to having a substance use problem and to being in treatment. Despite this, many clients in the GSC have received more than one episode of alcohol and other drug treatment in recent years. This suggests clients have substantial motivation to seek help, although they may struggle to stay in remission from problematic alcohol and other drug use. For some clients, residential rehabilitation may be required.

WRAD Director Geoff Soma, says,

“People who have struggled to overcome not only drugs but a serious health problem deserve a better deal and to find some hope to hold on to.”

Residential rehabilitation targets people with severe and long-standing alcohol and other drug use problems who have tried other services but with limited success. It involves stays of three months (sometimes longer) at a dedicated facility that provides a structured, work-based program within a supportive environment. Clients undergo detoxification before coming to the service, so they are not chemically dependent on alcohol and other drugs. They engage in therapeutic counselling and other group and individual activities to develop personal and social skills that are important in addressing alcohol and other drug use problems.

The wrap-around service model facilitates clients’ engagement with other services, with variation according to their individual concerns. Clients may engage with primary and mental health care and they may utilise employment, education, welfare, family and other services to establish pathways that are integral to their eventual reintegration into the broader community.

Warrnambool College principal Dave Clift, says

“It is an unfortunate reality that a small number of our young people in the Warrnambool district become drug dependent. Most aren’t known to schools – they simply fall out of the education system and become lost to further learning opportunities.”

“Having a residential rehabilitation centre in Warrnambool provides these young people with a way out of the negative spiral of addiction in a way that will ‘stick’. It gives them hope in a future that can include further education and employment, and in so doing it gives our whole community hope that we can collectively create a better Warrnambool for all.”

Put simply, treatment aims to address all client needs within a comprehensive and tailored model. Clients work, reflect, learn and grow within a supportive environment, to attain the capacity for major life change.

Residential rehabilitation is in short supply in many locations. Victoria currently has a relatively small number of funded residential rehabilitation beds. The waiting period to get into residential rehabilitation is extensive and the distance to existing services, many of which are in or close to Melbourne, creates particular barriers for regional clients. While plans are underway for beds in the Grampians, Barwon , and Gippsland regions, GSC clients would still have to travel a minimum of 2.5 hours (with limited public transport options) to reach these services.

Former Premier of Victoria and local State MP Denis Napthine has been following the problem experienced in this part of the region for many years. He says

“The missing link in our regions drug and alcohol services is the lack of readily accessible locally based residential rehabilitation services, they are urgently needed to help our community members whose lives are in crisis and who desperately need these services to help them turn their lives around.”

Those most in need of residential rehabilitation are people in crisis, with complex histories and relationships. Moving away from existing supports and familiar territory is too great a challenge for many. This is compounded by the waiting period to get into existing residential rehabilitation services and the limited transitional support for clients who return to the local area following treatment.

Warrnambool police Acting Superintendent Graham Banks says

“Whilst alcohol and drug abuse often start as a health issue for individuals, it often becomes a crime and social issue for the broader community, so treating the root cause of the addiction is in everyone’s interest. Localised treatment allows for the clients utilising the treatment to remain engaged in the community they will live in.”

WRAD has determined there is a clear need for a local residential rehabilitation service. WRAD has the necessary skills, expertise, and standing in the community to address this issue and we have received strong support during local consultations. Other groups in the GSC, including the Western Victoria Primary Health Network, have also prioritised the need for a residential rehabilitation as part of their planning process.

We envisage a 20-bed facility in or near Warrnambool. It will be staffed 24 hours, 7 days a week. Clients will be housed in private bedrooms, and there will be a common room, recreation space, and counselling offices, in addition to kitchen and dining rooms and bathrooms. The grounds will include produce gardens to foster service sustainability and recreation facilities for skill development.

By establishing a residential rehabilitation centre WRAD as the lead agency in the Great South Coast Drug treatment consortium will add to the existing complement of alcohol and other drug, other health and welfare services that strive to improve the lives of those in need of specialist care and support.

WRAD has the support of Warrnambool City Council and a number of local agencies including police, Brophy Family and Youth Services, mental health services and TAFE.
Kerry Nelson, CEO of Mpower, says she fully supports plans to provide residential rehabilitation for this complex client group to access within their community in the south west”

There has been some considerable work completed to date to establish a local facility. The next steps involve gaining financial support to purchase a site for the service and a government commitment to fund operational costs. Community, philanthropic trust support and local government support will be integral to this process.

WRAD has committed $600,000 to the capital costs of this project. The community fundraising target is $605,000

A Residential Rehabilitation Planning and Fundraising Committee includes local leaders with a strong track record of working to advance community well-being. The committee is chaired by Glenys Phillpot who is joined by Sue Cassidy, Tracey Kol, Matty Stewart, John Rantall and Greg Best.


Donations can be made to the ANZ branch in Warrnambool or below

Support the Lookout Residential Rehab Centre

$627,800 of $605,000 raised

‘The lookout’ and will provide a range of services for clients and their families in Warrnambool and the Great South Coast. Please support this initiative with a donation…

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