Milwaukee ER doctor battles on frontline of three outbreaks


Dr. Julie Doniere is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women across the country who have made a significant impact. The annual program is a continuation of Women of the Century, a 2020 project that commemorated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Meet this year’s winners at

Dr. Julianna “Julie” Doniere works in hospital emergency rooms in some of Milwaukee’s poorest ZIP codes, simultaneously battling three epidemics: opioid addiction, gun violence, and COVID-19.

But she doesn’t just treat patients and send them on their way.

When she noticed the number of patients struggling with addiction, she hired recovery coaches and started one of the first programs in a Wisconsin emergency room to give Narcan. When she saw too many otherwise healthy young men entering the hospital with gunshot wounds, she helped obtain gun locks to help prevent accidental shootings. And while her staff, from caretakers to doctors, have worked day in and day out to fight a seemingly endless pandemic, she watches over them, making sure they get breaks and the support they need.

Every day in the emergency room, Doniere sees the life-saving work of health care. But she also sees the problems that doctors have yet to solve — and it’s those problems that drive the work she does today.

Doniere, a physician with emergency medicine specialists working in the emergency departments of St. Joseph and St. Francis Hospitals in Ascension, is the USA TODAY Wisconsin Women of the Year winner.

She has seen patients go from being homeless, unable to work and regularly visiting trying to get opioids and other drugs, to finding work, a place to live and breaking free from their addiction.

Dr. Julie Doniere holds a gun lock and Narcan at Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital-St.  Joseph Campus in Milwaukee on Jan. 27.  Doniere has set up programs to give both away for free in the emergency departments where she works.
Dr. Julie Doniere holds a gun lock and Narcan at Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital-St. Joseph Campus in Milwaukee on Jan. 27. Doniere has set up programs to give both away for free in the emergency departments where she works.
Ebony Cox/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“We brought in a child and he overdosed on heroin. This young man was extremely angry, shouting a myriad of obscenities. We asked him to wait just two minutes to find out more about our free program Narcan,” Doniere said. “The pharmacist started talking about how to give Narcan. He started crying and said we were the first to care.”

His next goal is to get a recovery center on the north side of Milwaukee, where some of the city’s poorest residents live.

“Opioid disorder doesn’t discriminate at all, but where discrimination happens is how we treat it,” she said. “It’s hard to get treatment if it’s not near you and you don’t have the right transport or you can’t get enough time off from work. We’re really trying to change that and to meet more patients where they are.”

With new programs in place to address opioid addiction among Milwaukee residents, Doniere began his next battle against an epidemic that tugged at his heart: gun violence.

“It’s devastating, and it makes me so sad. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen perfectly healthy men, usually African Americans and in their early twenties, who were in good health. health but whose body was ravaged by armed violence.

“What I’ve learned is that it’s a product of all the stressors in their lives and all the challenges that got them to the point where they got involved in gun violence,” said- she declared.

While working tirelessly to resolve issues that plagued his common ERs to his ER patients, Doniere then had to battle the same COVID-19 pandemic that ravaged hospitals across the country and the world.

Kevin Kluesner, former chief administrator of Ascension Hospitals, worked with Doniere for four years.

“First of all, he’s a great doctor. But then, on top of that, he’s a wonderful human being,” Kluesner said. “She always tries to help people in our community who are most vulnerable.”

“She deals with people who have acute episodes, but what I like about her is that she tries to work on those things, those social determinants of health, to prevent them from coming in those circumstances. emergency,” he said. “When they are in Julie’s care, they receive the best care.”

The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Women of the Year: Dr. Julie Doniere discusses opioids, COVID-19 and gun safety measures

As an emergency physician at Ascension Saint-Joseph, Dr. Julie Doniere discusses her efforts and impact in three pandemics: opioids, COVID-19, and gun violence prevention.

Ebony Cox, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, especially healthcare professionals.  What helped you pass?

In the most difficult times, I turn to the wonderful, intelligent, kind and unwaveringly courageous team with whom I have the privilege of working. I am inspired daily by the selflessness of the nurses I work with. They have been flexible and consistent. The doctors and mid-level providers I work with constantly check on each other.

Part of my history with each patient is asking questions about their vaccination status. Every time someone tells me they are vaccinated, it gives me hope!

I’m also lucky to have the greatest partner in the world. My husband Tim is my constant rock. He and my grown children Clyde and Jane are constant support.

What do you want people to know about opioid addiction?

Opiate use disorder is a medical condition that does not discriminate and is not a moral failing. If you are affected by opiates, there is help and the medical community is there for you. If you or someone you love is struggling with opiates, it’s important to have some naloxone (generic Narcan) on hand. Naloxone is a life-saving drug that can be given by anyone to someone who has overdosed on opiates. There are support systems like the recovery coach program that we use that can support you where you are in your struggle. If you’re on the verge of wanting to stop using opiates, there are medications and behavioral therapies that can help. There is hope!

Who do you have / do you admire?

My mother celebrated her 90th birthday (in January) and I am constantly in awe of her. She taught me that if you want something done, do it. If you sit and complain, nothing will be done.

Is there a guiding principle that you work by and what is it?

Be kind. During a busy emergency department, it’s important to slow down and take time with each patient to find out what’s really going on. In the emergency room, I have the privilege of being invited into people’s lives when they are most vulnerable. A normal day for me is often the worst day of a patient’s life. Keeping this in mind helps me to be empathetic and present.

Dr. Julie Doniere
A normal day for me is often the worst day of a patient’s life. Keeping this in mind helps me to be empathetic and present.
What advice would you give to your younger self?

Doubt is your enemy. I wish I had had the courage to get my MPH (Masters in Public Health) sooner and try to make a real difference in our community. For too long, I assumed I wasn’t smart enough to join the conversation about health care reform. I realized that we all have to be involved in what we are passionate about and that nothing will change if we do not act.

What is your proudest moment?

There is a patient whom the staff knows quite well and who is a “regular” in the emergency room. He was homeless and addicted to heroin. He often came to the emergency room, especially on cold nights. He was extremely reluctant to talk about his health and usually left shortly after eating a sandwich and warming up. A few months ago he presented with back pain and a fever. He had an epidural abscess, a known complication of intravenous drug abuse. It is a life-threatening infection that requires emergency neurosurgery. He refused the operation and was about to leave the hospital. The urge to use heroin during withdrawal is so strong that he could only think of leaving the hospital to use. Our recovery coach was able to talk to him, we discussed pain management options and he agreed to surgery.

A few months later, I walked into a room to find a patient who had cut himself doing the dishes. He said, “You know me. You took care of me a few months ago. It was the same patient. He has been transformed. He was happy, proud, looking me in the eyes. He had managed to avoid opiates since the operation. He had reunited with his family and was living with them. He even took care of his sisters’ children while she went to work. I don’t think my feet touched the ground for the rest of the shift.

Jordyn Noennig covers Wisconsin culture and lifestyle. Follow her on Instagram @JordynTaylor_n. Find her on Twitter @JordynTNoennig. Call her at 262-446-6601 or email [email protected]

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