Norwich health center awarded grants to combat opioid crisis

Norwich — United Community & Family Services last week was named one of 16 centers statewide and more than 1,100 nationwide to receive federal funding made available as the country’s opioid crisis worsens.

In total, the Health Resources and Services Administration, a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services, handed out more than $200 million. The money is aimed at funding treatment for mental health and opioid abuse in rural towns and bustling cities alike.

UCFS’s Norwich branch was awarded $175,700, which will be spread out over the three-year span of the grant. Employees of the nonprofit have big plans about what to do with the money, which was publicized on the same day UCFS announced it had received an $85,000 grant from the CVS Health Foundation.

First, they plan to bring on a licensed clinical social worker. According to Pam Kinder, vice president of business development, the social worker will step in whenever primary care physicians identify patients who may be developing an addiction to prescription drugs or otherwise are struggling with substance use.

The social worker, with more expertise in substance abuse and more time to do a thorough evaluation, will sit down with the patient in question, craft a potential treatment plan and encourage them to make a follow-up appointment.

“Often, if you’re meeting someone one-on-one and having that face time, you have an opportunity to destigmatize addiction,” Kinder said. “We are doing this in the hopes it’s going to improve our rates of clients who come in and follow through with treatment.”

UCFS’s Norwich health center also plans to hire a recovery coach. That person, part of a behavioral health services team, will be tasked with acting as a peer to those in treatment, whether reminding them to attend their appointments or talking them through their struggles along the way.

Kinder said UCFS hopes to make both hires within the next 120 days. When the grant ends, she said, the nonprofit plans to either get another grant or find money in its budget to keep the two positions.

“We’re pretty positive they’re going to have a huge impact,” she said.

UCFS additionally is going to purchase a cellphone app called myStrength, which will, among other things, allow patients and providers to track prescription drug use and monitor recovery.

Because of the grant, some staff will be able to attend motivational interviewing training, Kinder said. According to Melissa Banks Floyd, grants manager for UCFS, the style of interviewing is an evidenced-based approach to counseling that encourages clients to move away from indecision and work instead toward accomplishing goals.

UCFS finally plans to use some of the funding to have former NBA player and recovering addict Chris Herren speak in the area in the spring.

Kinder said he’ll have one meeting with health providers to provide feedback on the best ways to approach and care for those struggling with addiction. Then he’ll give a presentation at Griswold High School, which likely will be similar to the presentation he gave in East Lyme last year.

Many of the additions allowed by the grant will accentuate UCFS’s focus on being a one-stop shop of sorts, Kinder said.

“Proximity to care is important at UCFS,” she said, noting that its Norwich center has a pharmacy along with primary care, dental and behavioral health services under one roof. “If you can come through the door and get multiple services at one time, your likelihood of success is going to be better.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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