By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Jennifer Lebert had no idea COVID-19 would bring her an unexpected gift.
The Windsor resident, idled from her job as a trainer for a large telecommunications company, found herself volunteering to help people access 12th Step recovery meetings online.
In recovery herself, she quickly discovered she had a passion for the job.
Now, a year later, Lebert is laying the groundwork for Westover Treatment Centre’s new virtual four-week substance abuse treatment program.
The Thamesville-based program will be the second of its kind in Ontario. Renascent Treatment Centre in Toronto is the only other facility offering an online treatment program.
Helping launch and deliver the virtual approach dovetails with Lerbert’s background teaching and training others.
“I do have a lot of experience with youth and seniors,” she explained, adding her niche is helping people who don’t understand technology.
“I am comfortable with them being uncomfortable,” she said.
With a September launch target, Lebert and the Westover team have their work cut out for them.
Executive Director Laird Brush said the time is right to offer a full online treatment program.
The pandemic turned the traditional route of 12th Step programs on its head, as meeting places were closed to the public.
Many turned to Zoom meetings online.
Brush said a major challenge of the new program is successfully transferring the knowledge gleaned by Westover over the course of decades of successful residential substance abuse treatment into an online platform.
He is confident in Lebert and the rest of his staff to develop and support the program.
“I’ve got the talent and the technology,” Brush said, adding the treatment centre has invested heavily in technology since the start of the pandemic.
Westover already offers some programs online. A weekend family program for family and friends of people in recovery, a bi-monthly women’s recovery program and a recovery support aftercare program are already in place.
This past June, the recovery support meetings alone provided 67,000 minutes of meeting time.
Brush said the new online program can provide access to people who aren’t suited for residential treatment, or who can’t access it, such as single parents or people with a disability.
It also eliminates geographical barriers, allowing people from far afield to attend virtually.
However, the new system comes with its own unique problems.
Determining whether a person is staying clean while attending online is an added challenge, Brush said, but in the event counsellors think someone is abusing a substance while attending, they have the ability to close the “virtual door” to assess the situation.
Brush, who sits on the Ontario Health Teams for both Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton, said the online treatment model is being well received by health-care professionals.
“I think we’re on the cusp of something really remarkable,” Brush explained. “I believe there’s endless potential.”
Lebert is in agreement, adding she’s enthusiastic about the possibilities.
“I’m excited to come to work,” she laughs, adding Brush’s enthusiasm for the project is infectious.
Brush said another necessary step is securing funding for the project, but he plans to plow ahead nonetheless.
“It’s an addition to what we do,” he said. “All you’re doing is taking out the room and board.”