CONWAY — It’s an all too frequent occurrence. A patient enters the emergency department at Memorial Hospital.
It could be a drug overdose. It could be any number of other accidents or ailments exacerbated by substance misuse.
In its high-pressure fast paced environment, it’s not always the best place to provide someone with the information and resources they need to make a step towards recovery.
But now, thanks to an partnership between Memorial Hospital, MWV Supports Recovery and White Horse Addiction, those in need can meet with a recovery coach in the emergency department to get started down the road to a life free from dependence on drugs or alcohol.
Memorial Hospital Emergency Department Clinical Manager Erika Roy, RN, explained that through this unique arrangement with two local recovery-focused organizations, the hospital is now able to offer anyone who feels they need drug or alcohol treatment the option to meet with a peer recovery coach.
Recovery coaches are able to talk one-on-one with the patient right in the exam room and provide addiction counseling, plus resources available to them for recovery, from treatment centers to sober living to support groups.
A team of five to six recovery coaches are now on call at Memorial 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is a primary and secondary recovery coach on call in case two are needed at the same time. A coach responds within an hour of being called, and is someone with whom the patient can form a personal relationship.
These recovery coaches are specially trained and have gone through many of the same screenings and trainings that hospital employees receive.
This includes undergoing background checks, having up-to-date immunizations, being trained in infection prevention precautions and being issued hospital ID badges. Some of the coaches are in recovery themselves, and others are licensed social workers.
The coaches will help the patient get connected to resources, taking the burden off of the emergency department staff so they can concentrate on other aspects of their job. Memorial’s emergency department treats about 18,000 patients a year.
Roy shared, “I’m excited we started this program. No matter why someone comes into the emergency department, no matter what their primary complaint, we can now offer services. They may not accept the offer the first time. But it doesn’t matter how often. It’s proven that the more often recovery services are offered, the more likely they’ll eventually accept it. The very first day we started the program, we successfully offered access to a recovery coach to a patient and they accepted.”
They expect volume for the program to grow over time as the community becomes more aware of its services.
The recovery coaches are funded through a N.H. state Integrated Delivery Network grant and their services are free to the patient. Roy says it’s a pilot program and they are collecting data to show the program can be successful. Eventually, she said, the program could be expanded to their inpatient medical/surgical patients.
Roy said, “When we are discharging patients from the emergency department, we don’t always know all the resources available. These coaches can take the time to talk to the patient about their best options. It’s taking the time, an extra level of care that our nurses can’t always provide. They have the time to give explanations. They meet with patients in the exam room privately. The patient can ask questions.”
Rose Normandin, director of programs for MWV Supports Recovery, said that they saw the need to develop this program as opiate overdoses were increasing, as were discharges from the hospital where patients might be released without further information about recovery resources.
She described an incident where she personally had gone into the emergency department with a client who overdosed.
“There was nothing given to them to reach out the next day as far as resources for detox centers,” she said.
After learning about a program in Connecticut that brought recovery coaches into the emergency department, Normandin traveled to that state and underwent further training to learn more.
She and Janice Spinney, executive director of MWV Supports Recovery, decided to join forces with White Horse Addiction and bring the program to Memorial Hospital.
“We wanted to bring our organizations together and have this resource for people coming to Memorial for an overdose,” Normandin said.
She said patients are asked alone, away from loved ones or family, if they want the recovery coach called.
"They have to be open-minded enough to have us come in and have a conversation," she said. "Even if they say no, they still can be handed a brochure with resources and then it’s up to them. More importantly, we want them to consent to see us and be by their bedside, and have a conversation without pressure or stress and open their minds to a path to recovery. Statistics say there is a 24-hour window after an overdose to the time the person realizes they need detox or treatment. The window is very small. It’s a fragile state.”
Normandin is pleased with the collaboration with Memorial.
“We want to be there for the opiate epidemic and to treat addiction. We want to gain respect of the hospital and staff, and we want to receive it and also be respectful of them," she said.
Eric Moran, Manager of the Peer Recovery Center at White Horse Addiction Center, emphasized the importance of knowing all of the resources available in the community.
“The idea is that if somebody comes in under duress, due to an overdue or heavy misuse, the coach is there to reach them with resources and options they may not otherwise receive," he said. "Being in recovery myself, I know we give them hope. We haven’t had a lot of use yet, but this is a pilot and we hope that as it continues we will work with every doctor’s office in our region.”
“At the very least, we have treatment options, sober living options and our RCO options. This includes Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery and family information, because we know the entire family is frustrated.” Moran noted the increase in recovery resources in the area, recalling, “When I got sober, there were only two AA meetings in Ossipee. There’s a lot more now.”
Moran praised the teamwork it’s taken to get this program off the ground.
“It’s been very positive with Memorial. I’m blown away by how well I’ve been treated while working with them," he said. "The hospital has given me a lot of hope for what we are trying to do, that we will be successful and be able to expand this in the future. We need to be sure our area doesn’t fall between the cracks. How do we reach the unreachable? My ultimate goal is that everyone understands we have these resources available.”
Where to Find Help:
White Horse Addiction Center: 2977 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, NH 03860; whitehorseaddictions.com or (603) 651-1441.
Memorial Hospital - Emergency Department: 3073 White Mountain Highway, North Conway, NH 03860; memorialhospitalnh.org or (603) 356-5461.