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Recovery coaches fill a vital need of overdose patients

New London — For the past week, overdose patients at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital have been offered a new service that could keep them from coming back.

“No longer are we just going to treat the emergency issues,” Dr. Oliver Mayorga, chief medical officer and emergency department physician at L+M, said Wednesday.

“We want to reach these people at a teachable moment,” he said.

Under the new program, emergency doctors and nurses now ask patients revived after an overdose on heroin or other opioid whether they’d like the help of a recovery coach from the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery to guide them into treatment.

The program, begun as a partnership of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, CCAR and four hospitals — L+M, The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich, Manchester Memorial and Windham hospitals — already has helped connect 43 patients with recovery services, said Jennifer Chadukiewicz, emergency department recovery coach manager for CCAR. The program began at Manchester Memorial a month ago, then expanded to Backus and Windham before coming to L+M last week.

“Our recovery coaches have seen remarkable results in just a few weeks,” she said. “We’ve had 350 phone conversations with these people.”

In announcing the program at a news conference at L+M, Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, DMHAS commissioner, said she was “thrilled and excited” to be adding the recovery coach program to other initiatives aimed at combatting the opioid addiction crisis. The coaches, who are on call from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week, will be paid with federal grant funds the state is receiving over the next two years through the 21st Century Cures Act, she said. She hopes to expand the program to additional hospitals.

“Now, when a person is admitted to the emergency department for alcohol or drugs, they will be connected to a recovery coach, who will be there to help them get to the other side,” Delphin-Rittmon said. “This is a vital window in which we can intervene.”

Thus far, recovery coaches David Santiago, Jay Osborne and Katherine Siekiera are on call to visit overdose patients at the four hospitals.

“We stick by them for several days,” Santiago said. “It brings us great joy to do what we do, if we can help people.”

He and the other coaches are contacted through CCAR’s dispatch number when an overdose patient agrees to meet with them, Chadukiewicz said. Sometimes, patients first refuse the help, then change their minds and come back to the hospital the next day.

“A lot of what we do is plant seeds of hope,” she said.

The coaches, said Rebecca Allen, director of recovery support services for CCAR, “provide that ear for them to talk to honestly and openly about what they want.” They are trained in the intricacies of insurance coverage and recovery programs, and work to match the patients with the services they need, she said.

j.benson@theday.com

For more information about the recovery coach program, contact Jenniefer Chadukiewicz, emergency department recovery coach manager for the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery, at (860) 244-2227 or jennifer@ccar.us">jennifer@ccar.us.

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