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Behavioral Healthcare Champion: David Vennes

July 26, 2018

While putting his own career back on track after a 10-year battle with addiction, David Vennes, MPNA, LADC, revitalized a community-based provider in Minnesota along the way.

Minneapolis-based NUWAY is thriving under Vennes, the organization’s executive director and CEO. But when Vennes was handed the reins a decade ago, he took over a company in dire straits.

“We were doing less than a million dollars a year. It was a couple rundown halfway houses, and the state had changed the way it reimbursed,” Vennes says. “When I got involved, we were $350,000 in the red to the IRS. It looked pretty dire.”

But facing adversity was nothing new for Vennes. Prior to joining NUWAY, Vennes spent 10 years battling addiction and going in and out of prison, collecting six felony charges along the way. Vennes got sober in 2002 and got back into the field with NUWAY a few years later after re-earning his license. Vennes spent one year as a counselor before being tapped for a leadership role.

Vennes, who had 16 years in the field from the late 1970s to the early 1990s before relapsing, says his personal experiences helped him shape a course for NUWAY’s rebound.

“I had burned a lot of bridges and dug a deep hole for myself,” Vennes says. “This time, being in a leadership role, I have that perspective of the tremendous need that’s out there for people cycling in and out of treatment and the chronic relapsing folks that have burned all their bridges. That’s what NUWAY was designed for and envisioned to serve: the clients that needed more than 28 days, and there was nothing available back then.”

Under Vennes’ direction, NUWAY has become the first organization in the U.S. to adopt the Co-Occurring Disorders Program created by Dartmouth Medical School in association with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, and it has developed the RISE (Recovery in Supportive Environments) model, which links outpatient treatment with recovery residence support.

“In Minnesota, there is a ton of high-quality, short-term intensive treatment centers,” Vennes says. “The majority of the growth has been in the short-term, high-intensity part of the continuum. That creates even more need in the extended care piece. Some people need more than 21 or 28 days. Rather than cycling them in and out of short-term programs, which is so expensive, we’ve tried to fill that gap and be there to augment those short-term programs by offering extended care.”

NUWAY’s extended care treatment continuum includes a medium-intensity residential program for men and outpatient with recovery residence support for both men and women. All NUWAY programs offer individualized lengths of stay based on client need and address co-occurring disorders.

Overall, NUWAY operates five clinics, has a network of more than 160 sober living affiliates, and works with more than 700 clients.

Vennes credits those around him at NUWAY for the organization’s turnaround.

“From the board of directors, the leadership, the staff, we’ve had such a mission-minded, focused staff. Sometimes, when I get to one of our treatment centers, my heart flutters when I see our staff interact with clients. It takes my breath away. It’s humbling to be a part of.”

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