didgwalic Wellness Center

The didgwalic Wellness Center opened its doors in late 2017 and was offering all services by January 2018.

File photo | Skagit Valley Herald

Twice as many people will soon be able to receive help at an opioid treatment facility that has a waiting list of 100 people even though it just opened a year and a half ago.

The Anacortes City Council unanimously approved a conditional-use permit Monday that allows the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community to expand its didgwalic Wellness Center by more than 12,000 square feet.

The new three-story addition to the north side of the current opioid addiction treatment facility will give didgwalic space to double its current limit of 250 clients, as well as offer dental care.

“One of our issues is we under-projected the need in the community, and we have reached capacity at our current facility,” Executive Director John Stephens said.

The didgwalic Wellness Center started providing services on Jan. 8, 2018, and already has 100 people on a waiting list, he said.

The center offers medication-assisted treatment to those battling opiate use disorder, as well as offering mental health care, social work, help with accessing community resources, free childcare and free transportation.

It is the only one in the county that provides this type of treatment and the only facility in the nation that provides all these services under one roof, Stephens said.

The center focuses on help with chemical imbalances in the brain and offers different types of health care to make sure each person is treated in as many ways as possible, he said.

“We stabilize people,” Stephens said.

The addition of dental care will provide something not available to many people on Medicaid, he said.

The didgwalic center will see about 30 to 40 new staff members with the expansion, and the payroll will double from its current $3 million a year.

The center is tribally owned, managed and funded, but about 80 percent of the clients are non-Native, Stephens said. The tribe had services similarly to those on its reservation but wanted to open them up to members of the community to battle what is clearly an epidemic, Stephens said.

The expansion will also include a new bus shelter and parking lot. Of the people who are visiting didgwalic for the first time, about 90 percent do not have a current driver’s license, Stephens said.

The center’s mission is to remove all barriers to care, including transportation.

Drivers from didgwalic go pick up clients around the region, including in Oak Harbor, Burlington and Mount Vernon. Often, the clients need to bring their children, so the facility also offer free childcare area while the parent receives treatment.

The family is then returned home in time for the child to catch a school bus.

Transportation is key, because facilities without it have a much higher noncompliance rate, Stephens said.

“We’ve removed barriers that would otherwise prevent care or limit access for people with opiate use disorder,” Stephens said. “We’re very proud of that.”

Swinomish staff will be accepting a national leadership award from the Indian Health Services next week.

Stephens said the tribe will be back later to the talk to the city about transitional housing for those dealing with opiate use disorder.

“But not tonight,” he said.

The City Council offered messages of support to Stephens and his staff, many of whom were in the audience.

“I really want to applaud the vision, the determination, the willingness to bring forward such a clinic and to bring it forward with this holistic approach to health and health care,” Councilman Anthony Young said.

Councilman Brad Adams said he has enjoyed watching the process from the beginning, when Stephens first brought the idea of the facility to the council a couple of years ago.

“To see that vision become successful is inspirational to me,” Adams said.