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New high school clinic to help address substance abuse in Vermilion County

Danville High School

DANVILLE – A clinic for addiction and mental health treatment could open in Danville High School by the end of March.

Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation has agreed to run the clinic. Danville School District 118 is renovating the school’s basement as the clinic’s future home.

Deanna Witzel is a McDonald’s owner and operator. She also founded Step Up, the coalition of Vermilion County leaders that pitched the clinic to SIHF.

“Ever since Step Up, people have worked more as a team, as a community. Somebody will say, ‘This is what I need,’ and someone else will say, ‘I can fill that need,’” Witzel says.

For example, Danville High School happened to have unused space available for the clinic.

The clinic will be open to the 5,000 students in the district, plus their families and school staff.

This is just the first step, Witzel says. Southern Illinois Healthcare has also agreed to run a community-wide mental health, addiction, and dentistry center on the former St. Elizabeth Hospital site on Sager Street. While planning and construction for that center occurs, Witzel hopes to staff that clinic up in another, temporary space by the summer.

Both sites would be federally qualified health centers, which means they must provide services on a sliding scale based on income level.

A treatment gap in Vermilion County

Three maps show overdoses broken down by county.
Vermilion County has the highest rate of non-fatal, opioid overdoses in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Illinois Department of Public Health

When Witzel launched Step Up in 2017, she gathered the members to submit the top issues they saw in Vermilion County. The largest concerns turned out to be parenting, mental health and substance abuse.

The Vermilion County Health Department found similar top concerns in the region when putting together its own strategic plan.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Opioid Data Dashboard, Vermilion County has the highest non-fatal, opioid overdose rate in Illinois, at 22.47 per 10,000 people. The fatal overdose rate is in line with the state average.

Karen Petersen knows firsthand how much each overdose affects families.

Petersen works for the District 118 as a technology secretary. She joined Step Up after she lost her 33-year-old son, Joshua Petersen, to a drug overdose.

Petersen says substance abuse services currently missing in Vermilion County could have saved him.

She says the family struggled to get Joshua help for years.

“We were there. We were trying to help him. He was just sometimes cruel and mean to us. I don’t know how to say that any better, but [drugs] turn you into a really bad person sometimes,” Petersen says.

Petersen is advocating for a long-term residential facility for those struggling with addiction. She thinks Joshua needed to get out of his environment to beat his substance abuse.

Long-term addiction treatment will be part of the Sager Street center. Witzel says that right now, SIHF plans to provide that treatment within patients’ homes.

This article was updated on Feb. 8, 2022 with the correct spelling for Vermilion County. 

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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