A $175,000 federal grant will allow a local clinic to integrate mental health and substance abuse treatment services into its patients’ care to help battle the opioid crisis in Springfield, leaders said.
The Rocking Horse Community Health Center recently received an Access Increase in Mental Health and Substance Abuse grant will provide greater access to those services for its patients, Chief Executive Officer Dr. Kent Youngman said.
“We’re not trying to replicate things that are available in the community,” he said. “We’re trying to fill the void of things that we see with patients we have. These folks don’t fit well into other places but need service.
“Addiction is a chronic disease. It functions like a chronic disease and we intend to treat it like a chronic disease and provide the best integrated care we have.”
The grant was awarded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration as part of $7.4 million given to 43 health centers in Ohio earlier this month to increase access to substance abuse and mental health services as part of an effort to curb the opioid epidemic.
The money will be used to treat Rocking Horse patients who face substance abuse issues, including opioids and alcoholism, Medical Director Dr. Yamini Teegala said.
“We’re going to make sure we can help our own patients who deal with the disease of addiction, and see how we can get them into rehabilitation and recovery,” she said. “We’re trying to see where the need is for our own patients. We want to make sure we’re positioning ourselves not to turn anybody away if they do come through our doors asking for help. I think that’s the key.”
Last year, the health center served about 1,800 patients with mental health issues, Teegala said. About 85 to 90 percent of people who suffer from addiction also need mental health services, she said.
The health center has lost a few patients to opioids in recent years, she said.
“We’re a good microcosm of what’s happening in Clark County,” Teegala said. “We’re no different than what the community is facing, which means we have a deep problem … It’s enough to say it’s impeding our ability to take care of their primary care.”
Patients with complex medical issues and addiction may have problems coordinating care with other agencies, Youngman said. The grant money will allow all of that care to remain in-house, making it easier to address both physical health and addiction, he said.
About half of the money will be used in the first year to purchase equipment, perform training and add infrastructure, Youngman said. The remaining half of the money is ongoing funding used to hire two new positions — a peer support specialist and a mental health specialist — who will work directly with doctors and counselors to bridge care, he said.
Patients who are screened positively for mental health and addiction disease can be helped immediately by the new personnel, Teegala said.
“We’re trying to focus on the warm hand-off between the primary care and behavioral health service line,” she said.
Typically, those services aren’t billable to insurance or Medicaid/Medicare, meaning its hard for health centers to pay for those positions. The ongoing dollars will allow those needs to be met, she said.
“It’ll be a couple months but we’ll get it up and running,” Youngman said.
Teegala isn’t hearing as much about overdoses recently as she had been but said the epidemic typically comes in waves. She’s also concerned as the weather gets colder, more people may use illicit drugs to cope with mental health issues.
“If there aren’t adequate services, we’re going to face that again,” Teegala said. “I hope not. We don’t want to lose any more (people).”
The peer support specialist can engage addicts and show them hope, she said.
“It will also show the community that we’re for that,” Teegala said.
As providers, the grant money is no different than buying a piece of equipment for diabetes it uses on site, she said, rather than going to a lab elsewhere.
“We’re going to consider the disease of addiction just like any other chronic disease,” Teegala said. “That’s what we want to teach our patients.”
Diabetics and addicts are similar in that both fall off the wagon, she said.
“Every chronic disease relapses and so does addiction.”
The Rocking Horse Center has had one overdose at its downtown location. The person survived and has been in recovery for eight months. Narcan is also available in all locations and everyone on site is trained to use it, she said.
“If something does happen, we’ll be ready (to respond),” Youngman said.
SPRINGFIELD’S OPIOID WAR