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Waitlist vanishes for opioid detox beds – but still more demand than supply

Helio Health's Rochester location no longer requires appointments for people seeking inpatient drug detox.
Helio Health
Helio Health's Rochester location no longer requires appointments for people seeking inpatient drug detox.

Helio Health, which runs all 25 of the inpatient detox beds in Monroe County, stopped accepting appointments and moved to a walk-in-only system in August.

The change, which has not been reported until now, means there is no longer a waitlist to access inpatient detox, but it also means people might have to arrive early to score a bed at the clinic on University Avenue.

“I’ve had good luck when people get there by 8:00 a.m.,” said Becky Baker, whose group, Substance Overdose Awareness Recovery Services, helps people seeking help overcoming addiction find a place in a treatment program.

Larissa DeNero, who leads Helio’s inpatient detox unit in Rochester, said the shift is part of a larger push to enable people to enter drug treatment programs at the moment they’re most receptive to help.

When the organization required a client to schedule an appointment in advance, she said, too often they lost touch before the first session.

“That created kind of a backlog of people, and then we were having trouble getting a hold of people; some people’s phones weren’t working, or we weren’t able to reach them,” DeNero said. That can cause a person who wants to enter recovery to relapse instead.

“Walk-in hours eliminates that back-and forth phone-tag situation with people, and we can catch them when they’re ready for treatment,” DeNero said.

Still, DeNero said, demand for detox outpaces supply.

“We’re pretty much always full. That’s our goal, and if there’s a bed that sits open, it’s only for a matter of hours,” said DeNero. “The hardest part of that is always having conversations with people who are in need of our services and we don’t have enough beds for them.”

DeNero said if they have an open bed, they contact the Open Access clinic next door. That clinic also accepts walk-ins, but does not offer medically licensed detox.

Allowing people to access detox beds without scheduling an appointment reflects the fact that addiction does not follow a schedule, Baker said. “If someone’s desperate, they can go right in the morning. They don’t need to call and get scheduled for an appointment in two weeks.”

Helio is set to open 15 more beds by the end of January, but DeNero said that still is not likely to meet the need in Monroe County.

“I wish we could open 60 new beds,” she said.

Brett was the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.