In hospitals, waiting rooms are crowded and Emergency Rooms are typically filled with patients looking for help. However, what about those that are needing immediate attention for their addiction?
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, between 2006 and 2014, emergency room visits for alcohol and substance use disorders increased 75% – and today those numbers continue to be high.
While these crucial hospital visits can oftentimes be a turning point for patients to find a moment of clarity, oftentimes, no resources or follow-up is provided beyond stabilization.
Though, as addiction medicine has dramatically shifted over the years, so have ways to provide help for those with substance use disorder. A number of hospitals and non-profits including Hartford HealthCare, and Jefferson Washington Township Hospital have come up with an innovative way to bridge the gap between stabilization and recovery – and it’s catching on to other facilities.
Oftentimes in recovery themselves, a Recovery Coach, or “life coach,” helps those that are struggling or trying to stay sober, by providing a source of accountability and guidance. While navigating the oftentimes frustrating paths to sobriety, recovery coaches help patients establish a solid foundation of sobriety and provide a resource needed to promote healthy behavior. Now, they’re changing lives in Emergency Rooms.
“It’s such a wonderful way to offer needed support for these patients,” nursing manager Meghan Hilliard said. “With recovery coaches, these patients will be hearing from people who have a background that gives them special authority and credibility — they have been there themselves.”
At Hartford HealthCare, Recovery Coaches have become permanent staff members in Emergency Rooms. Assigned to respond 24-hours a day, seven days a week at a number of hospitals within the system, the recovery coaches are on call to assist each time an overdose patient admits into the ER and ensures they get the follow up care they need.
“Everyone knows [the opioid epidemic] is a serious problem in our community,” said Hilliard, “but there’s only so much front-line emergency room staff can do to address the underlying addiction that leads to overdoses. We can refer a patient to long-term treatment until we’re blue in the face, but we can only hope that they will listen to us.”
“We Want to Break Down Barriers”
Another hospital in Turnersville, NJ also picked up the concept. Jefferson Washington Township Hospital started inviting recovery coaches into the emergency room for those seeking medical services for substance use disorder. At the time of visit, hospital staff asked the patient if they’d like to meet a recovery coach. After answering yes, an on-call coach would arrive at the hospital, connecting with the patient. Providing ongoing support, even after stabilization was received at the hospital, recovery coaches do anything from driving patients to treatment centers to following up with the patient for weeks and months after discharge from the hospital.
While the hospital is still tracking long-term outcomes, early results prove the program is providing results. According to the hospital, in the first year, 73% of eligible patients accepted services of a recovery coach. Working with the medical team, the coaches helped 47% of those individuals connect with treatment services.
The new initiative has become a broader movement to more hospitals in Michigan. As a result of opiate-related deaths reaching a new high in 2017, they launched their program at a time to provide resources to patients in their most vulnerable time.
“We decided to catch these patients when they are at their most vulnerable. We want to break down barriers and find them immediate help,” said Andrew King, an emergency room physician at Detroit Receiving Hospital.
While these states have began trailblazing a movement to combat the opioid epidemic, other states including, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and others are taking action to follow suit and experiment with their own recovery coaches.
As an innovative approach, it’s essential that hospitals continue to follow suit, holding spaces for recovery coach within their healthcare systems and providing those struggling with more options for continued care.