Making detox accessible for all
4 April 2022 at 4:30 pm
Pia Clinton-Tarestad is the co-founder of the Clean Slate Clinic, a for-purpose healthcare clinic making home-detox accessible to all. She’s this week’s Changemaker.
When Pia Clinton-Tarestad quit her corporate job as a health economist after 20 years, she was burnt out and dependent on alcohol.
Around the same time, her co-founder and the medical director of Clean Slate Clinic, Dr Chris Davis, was in the process of launching Australia’s first home detox service. But with the service being seen as costly and complex by many GPs, Davis struggled to build momentum.
He needed help with expertise in health service design and delivery, so Davis asked Clinton-Tarestad to get involved in getting the Clean Slate Clinic up and running.
One of the first things she did was design, and then undertake a prototype of the program, which completely changed her life.
With medical help to safely detox, she realised that alcohol was a cause and not a solution to stress and anxiety, which changed her relationship with the substance completely.
Having been through the program and seeing what it could achieve, she became a “woman on a mission” to bring down the barriers to people who would otherwise miss our due to the cost, their cultural background or where they live.
Clean Slate Clinic takes clients through a detox program with support from dedicated nurses and doctors. The service is available predominantly through tele-health services at a 10th of the cost of a normal detox service.
She was recently named as one of the Snow Foundation’s Snow Entrepreneurs, which will see the business receive not only funding, but a mentor for the year, a diagnostic session to identify strengths and areas to further develop, and tailored advisory services coordinated by the Social Impact Hub.
In this week’s Changemaker, Clinton-Tarestad discusses how the clinic came to be, how she manages the challenges of her work, and the things that inspire her leadership.
How did the Clean Slate Clinic come about?
Our medical director, Dr Chris Davis, had been trying to encourage GPs in Australia to take up home detox for several years. He set up Australia’s first GP home detox in 2016, after successfully delivering the model in the UK. [He] had developed a passion for helping people with alcohol addiction having seen the impact that he could have, and he wanted to see the service offered widely in Australia. He worked closely with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners to provide training to support GPs, but there was limited take-up, as there is limited incentive for GPs to see these patients (they are seen as complex and costly).
Chris Raine, through his work in founding and building Hello Sunday Morning, had identified that the hardest part of alcohol withdrawal was individuals changing their relationship with alcohol, and discussed with Dr Chris the potential of putting the model onto telehealth.
They needed some expertise in health service design and delivery, and asked me to get involved. I had just quit my corporate job, where I had burned out, and had become dependent on alcohol after many years of drinking at unhealthy levels. One of the first things I did was design, and then go through, a prototype of the program, which has completely changed my life. With medical help to safely detox, and once you realise that alcohol is a cause and not a solution to stress and anxiety, changing your relationship becomes achievable.
Having been through the program and seen what it can achieve, as well as learned about how significant the barriers to access are for individuals who need the service (of which there are around 440,000 in Australia) I have become a woman on a mission to make the service accessible to any individual who needs it, irrespective of geography, culture or financial status.
What’s different about the clinic and its approach?
The key difference between us and any other alcohol detox program is that we deliver the program fully via telehealth, to anywhere in Australia. This means that you can detox safely from the comfort of your own home, which is obviously much more convenient for people. It also means you detox surrounded by your drinking triggers – while this might make it a little more challenging to get started, we believe that this sets you up for success in the long term, which our results are starting to show.
We also provide really good wrap-around support, including sending out a care package to our clients when they start the program, a named, dedicated nurse who is with them throughout and they have easy access to and lots of digital support in the form of online resources, reminders and questionnaires.
How do you manage the challenges of your work?
I can say without hesitation that Clean Slate Clinic is the most rewarding thing I have ever done, and it really doesn’t feel like work. It doesn’t pay me yet, so I do have to juggle my Clean Slate Clinic time with other work, which can be a challenge, but I make sure I carve out dedicated Clean Slate Clinic time every day.
Our Clean Slate Clinic team are also absolutely awesome – both the other directors, as well as our doctors, nurses, admin and IT support, and we solve the day-to-day problems that arise really collaboratively – which makes work so much more enjoyable, and really minimises the challenges I feel I have to deal with alone. The other directors and I also share the workload and are kind to ourselves and each other, we know we are putting in 100 per cent so when things occasionally get missed or don’t get done to our deadline, we don’t give ourselves a hard time.
Of course there are days when you get rejected by a funder, or the technology fails, but we look at the bigger picture and how far we have come in such a short time, as well as all of the other opportunities we have still to come.
I’m also much better these days at setting boundaries to ensure that my health and wellbeing come first – for me that means a good long walk with my dog every day.
What are some of the things that inspire your leadership?
For me it is all about impact – when I look at individuals that have achieved real positive change in the world, they humble and inspire me. Nye Bevan, who established the UK NHS, is my all-time hero but there are heroes all around us. I’m in awe when I look at the amazing work the Snow Foundation is doing, or what Shanna Whan has been able to achieve with Sober In The Country, or Chris Raine who got Hello Sunday Morning up and running in his early 20s.
Reading the feedback from our client is also an absolute inspiration – knowing that we are making a meaningful impact on individuals, helping them to live healthier, happier lives.
How has running the clinic changed your view of the world?
Overall it has been the most empowering experience of my life. Having left 20 years of secure well-paid employment not knowing where it would take me, being able to create something that works and see it come to fruition is amazing.
Running a fully virtual business has also opened my mind and broadened my horizons to how we do work – I spent the first year of the business travelling around Australia in a caravan and am currently in Portugal – and our team is dotted around Australia too.
The experience has opened my eyes to the generosity and kindness in the world. We have had so much help, from so many people – from volunteers helping us with our marketing, to senior people in the healthcare system providing guidance and advice, and the funding that we’ve had to get things started. Almost everyone we have reached out to for advice has taken time out of their busy schedules to talk to us and share their insights.
I’ve always subscribed to Socrates’ view that “the only thing I know is that I know nothing” but running Clean Slate Clinic has certainly reaffirmed that world view! There has been so much to learn in running a business, and I still have so much more to learn.