It's never too late for substance abuse treatment

September 27, 2017

Adam’s* substance abuse issue had gotten so severe that he was drinking anything that contained alcohol, from hair spray to hand sanitizer. Because this kind of alcohol was not meant for consumption, it caused an array of medical issues. Adam found himself in the emergency department at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center more than 40 times for treatment in 2015.

Thomas* also suffered from substance abuse, and, at just 90 pounds, visited Providence Sacred Heart’s ED two to three times each week.

Hospital caregivers identified Adam and Thomas as patients who visited the hospital again and again, and needed intervention and follow-up to better address their health care needs. They were referred to the Providence’s Community Diversion Program and enrolled in Spokane Treatment and Recovery Services (STARS) offered through Providence Health & Services in Eastern Washington.

Today, Adam is seven-months' clean and sober, and regularly visits his primary care physician. Thomas is now more than one year clean and sober, at a very healthy weight, and even visits the gym on a weekly basis.

Offering a helping hand from ED to treatment facility

Since 1980, the Community Diversion Program has helped to identify patients in the EDs and on the medical floors who are physically ready for discharge but in need of mental health and substance abuse treatment. The program helps place patients directly into STARS housing with full service case management and aftercare support, and a full chemical dependency and mental health treatment program.

“We have patients who have been treated and examined by a physician and are now physically ready to go home, but they have either a substance abuse or chemical dependency issue. It used to be that physicians would provide a list of resource numbers for them to call when they got home,” says Sara Clements-Sampson, Providence community benefit manager.

“But, now through our Community Diversion Program, team members come in while they’re still in the ED or the hospital, they do an assessment and refer them to other services,” she says. “We are able to hold their hand through the process and get them immediately into treatment instead of expecting them to go back to the throes of life and figure it out on their own.”

Addressing the bigger picture of mental health

Providence is committed to addressing the communities’ mental health needs, and one way to do that is to address the issue of substance abuse treatment. Through Providence’s community health needs assessment, it was determined that there is a high rate of substance abuse in this region of Washington. In response, Providence has provided a total community benefit investment of $570,000 over the last three years to help support the Community Diversion Program’s partnership with STARS. The program started in the ED at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and expanded this year to Providence Holy Family Hospital.

STARS is a dedicated behavioral health agency that is funded in part by the Spokane County Regional Behavioral Health Organization. Waiting for a treatment bed to free up is often the case with many limited county treatment resources throughout the United States, and the community benefit funding helps to offset this problem, says Sara.

“STARS is the only sobering unit in town, so waiting for a bed to open up is a problem. We reached out to them and said Providence wants to go a step further and help to address this problem on a deeper level,” she says. “We’ve identified people who are at a point in their lives where they want to make a change, and our intention is to get these people in our EDs stable and then be able to offer these comprehensive services to them with the goal of long-term change and re-entry into the community.”

From January 1, 2016, through October 31, 2016, STARS served more than 700 people through the Community Diversion Program and 44 percent of them used the more intensive treatment services to address their issues.

Substance misuse and substance abuse disorders cost the U.S. more than $442 billion annually in crime, health care and lost productivity, according to a national report. The Community Diversion Program helps build healthier, safer communities and brighter futures for the poor and vulnerable. Not only does it provide essential treatment for those who suffer from substance abuse, but it also helps to free up beds in the community’s emergency departments for other patients with life-threatening health care needs.

*Patient has given Providence permission to share his story, but the name has been changed to protect patient privacy.