Baptist Health Corbin has secured a $1 million grant to combat opioid and substance abuse in Knox and Whitley counties over the next three years.
The collaborative effort – which will include long-time behavioral health partner Cumberland River Behavioral Health – launched Sept. 1. Primary beneficiaries of the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grant will be pregnant women, those seeking Emergency Department treatment for substance abuse-related conditions and youth.
“Families in Knox and Whitley counties have been greatly impacted by substance abuse, compounding other major life stressors such as poverty, chronic unemployment and now, the novel coronavirus,” said Chris Holcomb, Baptist Health’s system vice president of behavioral health and advocate for rural health. “We plan to serve 1,000 families each year of the grant, focusing on education, prevention and treatment.”
The grant will fund a team to coordinate these efforts, including executive director Lee Richardson, project director Shannon Gray, a pharmacy technician, and community educator.
“Now, more than ever, communities must come together to address the added stresses created by this pandemic that makes the vulnerable even more at-risk of turning to drug use to overcome anxiety and stress and more susceptible to overdose deaths and suicide,” said Richardson. “The compounded impact of the opioid crisis is being felt across the rural communities we serve.”
The Baptist Health Integrated Care Consortium, consisting of Baptist Health Corbin and its Trillium Center, the Baptist Health Medical Group Briscoe Clinic, and Cumberland River Behavioral Health, will coordinate efforts under the grant. Programs will include:
• Prenatal care for pregnant women with a substance abuse history. Baptist Health Corbin reports that 15.5 percent of mothers delivering their babies at the hospital had a history of drug abuse. Between September 2019 and March 2020, 100 babies from the two counties were born with neonatal abstinence syndrome which may result in long-term health and development problems.
• Helping those who come through the hospital Emergency Department (ED) with substance or opioid abuse issues to plug into treatment and recovery programs. In 2018, of the 577 persons who went to the ED or were hospitalized for substance abuse issues, 388 instances involved opioids, according to the Kentucky Injury Prevention and Research Center county profiles.
• Expand needle exchange and drug take back efforts. The Centers for Disease Control consider Knox and Whitley counties among the top 15 in the nation for a high likelihood of an HIV/HCV outbreak due to the dense network of drug users and lack of syringe exchange programs.
• Training and education for primary care physicians and behavioral health providers in areas such as effective pain management.
• Target prevention efforts to community and family members plus expand Project Fit America, a physical fitness and wellness program for elementary and middle school students. Project Fit is now in 13 local schools.
“Substance abuse, particularly opioid abuse, has skyrocketed in the communities we serve,” said Tim Cessario, Cumberland River Behavioral Health’s regional director of substance abuse services. “Overdoses that involve opioids have more than tripled in the last 20 years. The overdose rate by county in this area is nearly three times higher than the national average. Through the consortium, we want to use our resources to support patients from screening to recovery.”
Telehealth, already widely used by Baptist Health Corbin which supports 38 service locations, will be one of the tools used to reach and stay connected to those who may have transportation issues or other barriers to seeking treatment.
Baptist Health Corbin has long been a regional leader in behavioral health, with service such as its detox recovery unit, intensive outpatient program, Hepatitis C clinic and inpatient care with a strong community education program.
Behaviorial health – specifically curbing opioid abuse – is a major focus for the nine-hospital Baptist Health system, which is headquartered in Louisville. System-wide efforts include pain management alternatives, provider education and providing easy ways for the public to safely dispose of unused medications.