New life-saving services will soon be rolling through Denver’s neediest neighborhoods.
As part of the city’s efforts to prevent drug overdose, substance misuse and the spread of diseases, Denver’s public health department this Friday is launching “Wellness Winnie,” a mid-size purple and blue Winnebago that will focus on providing behavioral and support services for people living in underserved areas, particularly in Montbello, west and southeast Denver.
“By taking support directly into neighborhoods where people are, we improve access to treatment, overdose prevention and reduction in disease progression. We let those experiencing substance misuse know they are not alone — and we’re here to help,” Mayor Michael Hancock said in a statement. “It is innovative approaches like the Wellness Winnie that literally put Denver on the road to meaningful solutions to help end the opioid crisis.”
In 2019, Hancock said the Office of the Medical Examiner estimates that more than 200 people in Denver died from drug overdose.
“The work of Wellness Winnie is meant to address that number,” he said. “It is also meant to save lives, to prevent harm, to connect people with a healthier way of living and better ways of coping.”
The recreational vehicle will be staffed by mental health counselors and peer support workers who have experienced behavioral health issues themselves.
“That makes them uniquely qualified to connect with people, to build those bridges, to reach out to people who are currently struggling,” said Robert McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting event.
All services provided by Wellness Winnie will be free of charge, including consultations with mental health professionals; primary care and referrals to long-term and specialty care; naloxone nasal spray, which can reverse an opioid overdose; survival basics, such as socks, sunscreen, hats, gloves and feminine hygiene products; and connections to partners that offer food, laundry, showers and help getting an ID card.
In the future, Denver’s public health department intends to expand the RV’s capabilities to include immunizations for the flu and hepatitis, testing for HIV and hepatitis C, screening for common health conditions and more.
The program is funded through Denver’s Health and Wellness Special Revenue Fund. Going forward, DDPHE plans to apply for public and private grants, as well as accept donations, to help cover the costs of services.
The ultimate goal is simple, McDonald said: “Connect (people in need) to long-term health care.”