Addiction hope: Hundreds accept treatment; lack of beds an issue
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- For the past six months, peer recovery coaches have staffed the emergency department at Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC) in West Brighton in an effort to convince those facing substance abuse to seek treatment rather than immediate discharge.
In those six short months, the volunteer coaches engaged 639 patients, according to preliminary data from Staten Island Performing Provider Systems (PPS). Of those, 44 percent chose the treatment option, which is three to four times higher than the hospital's prior rate of connecting patients to treatment services.
Labeled The Warm Handoff, the pilot program was implemented under PPS, DSRIP Behavioral Health Infrastructure Project and the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness (SIPCW), and ran from Nov. 29 to May 7.
The program has been extended an additional three months.
LACK OF LOCAL OPTIONS
While the success of the program was encouraging, it shined a glaring light on the need for more services on Staten Island.
While there has been a modest expansion in the number of in-patient and other addiction services in the borough recently, the success of The Warm Handoff illustrates there are not enough treatment beds available on Staten Island.
"One of the challenges that we've experienced has been a lack of beds in treatment programs on Staten Island, and many have had to be referred to off-Island facilities across the metro area," a spokesman for RUMC said.
"The capacity for in-patient detox services on Staten Island makes the importance of medication-assisted treatment, outpatient detox/withdrawal, and harm reduction services even more urgent," he said.
"We are excited by the results thus far utilizing the peer recovery coaches in the emergency department. Our staff has found that they relate well to the patients and overall make for a more positive experience for the patients," the RUMC spokesman said.
When asked her thoughts on the program shortly after its launch, Cristina B., a 29-year-old in long-term recovery, said: "Addicts don't want to listen to doctors -- we feel judged by them, they don't know what we're going through. We will listen to other addicts because they know our struggle, they know how bad it is."
Of the 639 patients admitted to the RUMC Emergency Department, 395 were first-time patients, the preliminary data shows.
More than 70 percent were male and approximately 70 percent were determined to have alcohol-related issues.
HOW IT WORKS
When a patient arrives and has suffered an overdose, is intoxicated or under the influence of a substance, the peer counselor will engage him or her in conversation to see if he or she is interested in treatment.
Should a patient decide he or she wants treatment, the peer counselor then works with a staff social worker at the hospital to set up a treatment plan based on each individual's needs, whether it's detox, residential, in-patient or intensive out-patient therapy.
Once placement has been secured, an on-call peer counselor escorts the individual to whatever treatment facility he or she is going to directly from the emergency department.
RUMC has also added four nurse case managers to the staff who work with the patients as well.
"We could certainly utilize more resources to enhance our existing team of social workers and nurse case managers," the spokesman said, since they are not currently staffed 24/7 like the peer recovery coaches.