Growing and evolving with NIATx: The Jackie Nitschke Center

Submitted by: 10/09/2013 by Maureen Fitzgerald

Bill LaBine, Director of the Jackie Nitschke Center in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was skeptical back in 2003 when JNC was selected to participate in Paths to Recovery. Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Paths to Recovery was the demonstration project that launched NIATx.

“I thought process improvement would be just one more thing to do,” say LaBine. “Increasing access and retention didn’t seem possible, since we were so busy trying to treat the people already in our system. I didn’t understand how we could possibly treat more. We had a waiting list for our waiting list!”  

His attitude changed after attending the first learning session, held in Chicago in late October 2003.

“I just woke up to the power of data and how it could help us,” LaBine recalls. “Designing our change projects around what the data was telling us was a new approach.”  And letting the data tell the story of whether or not a change was effective—for example, a declining no-show rate—was very motivating, adds LaBine.

Data has been just as important in showing LaBine and his team what changes are not working. One change project tested extending hours—offering a morning IOP or scheduling intakes in the evening. Says LaBine, “The data showed that we couldn’t sustain either service due to lack of participants.” 

A second benefit of participating in Paths to Recovery was the peer networking built into the project.“We realized that we’d been working in a silo, and didn’t talk to other providers. The monthly calls that were part of the project were extremely powerful,” comments LaBine. In fact, many of the relationships established then continue today, as JNC remains active in the Wisconsin STAR-SI project.

Since that early experience, JNC has been involved in many NIATx projects. The initial projects that focused on access and retention led to participation in NIATx trainings on leadership development, business skills, and preparing for the changes anticipated with full implementation of healthcare reform.

It was through NIATx that LaBine also began to get involved with leadership activities.

“Before NIATx, I didn’t really understand the importance of leadership, because our mission was to provide treatment. Today I see that leadership is all about developing relationships in the community, and that’s been crucial to sustaining and expanding our agency.”

LaBine cites the NIATx Communities of Commitment (2007–2008) as having a great impact on his leadership skills. “It forced me to reach out to the community, share some difficult truths, and promote our mission to help the community,” says LaBine. The Communities program also gave him skills to develop his staff and build a great team.

JNC also joined NIATx training initiatives in recent years focused on building business capacity and adapting to the rapidly changing healthcare funding environment. That training, along with leadership skills, was vitally important in 2011, when JNC lost all of its public funding (from Brown County) almost overnight.

“We very quickly had to learn how to work with third-party payers and reached out to the community to identify other services that JNC could provide to generate more revenue,” explains LaBine. “We had to change our business model and run more like a business, which is why we’re still open.”

Today, JNC is connected to community leaders and foundations in the Green Bay area, and these supporters have helped the agency develop a treatment scholarship program for people who rely on public funding. Jackie's Legacy Treatment Scholarship Program has been so successful that JNC offers two scholarships each month, to cover the full continuum of care.

Fundraising for the scholarship program includes an annual concert during Recovery Month. The 2013 event featured the singing/songwriting duo Sam & Ruby, attracting an audience of 1,000 and raising nearly $25,000 for the scholarship program.

The NIATx principles continue to serve as a guiding force for JNC, and “understanding and involving the customer” is part of the organization’s culture. “We continually address our outcomes by looking at the data, and we keep trying to get better at meeting community needs by getting feedback from our client population,” says LaBine.

Jackie Nitschke, known for her resilience, tenacity, and commitment to the Green Bay community, would surely be proud of the agency named after her. In 2014, her story will be shared with the world through the release of the documentary: “Champion: The Legacy of Jackie Nitschke.”

“NIATx has a lot to do with where we are today,” adds LaBine. “It’s allowed us to not only keep our doors open but to grow, as our improved services have attracted new sources of funding and payers. We’ve the gained the respect of community foundations and donors because we share data, value customer feedback, and continually make improvements to meet our clients’ changing needs.”

“As we have done in the past we will continue using NIATx principles to move successfully forward to allow people access to needed effective treatment services,” concludes LaBine. Small and simple data- driven changes will allow us to save lives and families for many years to come. We will remain a national leader in addiction recovery thanks to the structure provided us by the NIATx principles.

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