Pilot Program Helps Akron General Patients Find Sobriety
Novel program links emergency department patients suffering from drug or alcohol use disorders with long-term addiction treatment.
A new nurse-led program at Cleveland Clinic Akron General is fighting substance abuse through early interventions and peer-to-peer counseling. Created to provide ongoing support to patients who present to the emergency department (ED) for drug or alcohol issues, Recovery’s in Reach enables a rapid, seamless transition to addiction treatment that reinforces the possibility of sobriety.
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When a substance abuse disorder is diagnosed in Akron General’s ED, the patient is given an opportunity to talk with an on-site recovery coordinator who can help arrange long-term supportive care, explains Nurse Manager Jonathan Sanchez, MBA, BSN, RN, Lead Program Coordinator for Recovery’s in Reach.
“I’ve been a nurse in the ED for more than a decade, so I’ve seen how alcohol and drugs affect our community,” he explains. “Research shows that the longer patients must wait to enter treatment, the less likely they are to seek help, so it’s imperative to address these problems as early as possible. In many cases, opportunities arise when patients present to the ED in crisis — either because they’re in withdrawal or because their addiction has simply become unmanageable.”
Since the program was initiated in April 2022, the Akron General ED has evaluated an estimated 1,000 patients for substance use disorders, more than 50% of whom ultimately agreed to work with a recovery coordinator. The program is funded by a one-year $1 million grant from the Summit County Opiate Abatement Advisory Council. (Akron General is in Summit County.)
“We’re extremely pleased with the number of patients who have trusted us enough to seek treatment,” says Sanchez. “These decisions are extremely personal — and for many patients, it can be complicated and painful to admit the need for help. We measure our success one patient at a time.”
Recovery’s in Reach Program Coordinator Beth Albaugh, BSN, RN, says she is proud of the new initiative’s success stories as well. Of the 580 patients who have accepted help for their substance use, an estimated 64 have remained sober. Because the decision to enter a recovery program is intensely personal, Albaugh equates success with her ability to simply “plant the seed” of a sober life in her patients.
“Even if only one of our patients has gone on to break free from addiction, it’s all worth it to me,” she says. “As an emergency provider, you don’t always know what becomes of the seeds you’ve planted, so you must have faith that patients will make changes when they are ready and able. We really want sobriety for our patients, but they also must want it for themselves.”
Patients who accept the services offered by Recovery’s in Reach during their ED visit undergo screening to determine the type and level of addiction they’re battling, their readiness for recovery, and any potential withdrawal issues. The program’s recovery coordinators then work closely with the treating physician to determine the best course of action.
Albaugh explains that the team’s overarching goal is to connect patients with an outpatient recovery center of their choice prior to discharging them from the hospital. Each patient is also paired with a
peer coach — a licensed counselor who is currently in recovery from a substance use disorder — to help guide the healing process.
“Peer counselors have a powerful ability to relate to patients struggling with addiction because they’ve fought and overcome similar problems,” she says. “There’s simply no substitute for connecting with others who have shared and understand your experience.”
Sanchez adds that peer recovery specialists can also help eliminate the stigma that
often accompanies substance abuse, making it less awkward for patients to address their problems candidly. “Peer support bridges the gap by validating what the patient is going through and demonstrating that recovery is truly within reach,” he explains. “Most importantly, these relationships remind patients that they don’t have to go it alone.”
Once a patient is discharged from the ED and enters treatment, a recovery coordinator follows up with the individual every 30 days. These check-ins only stop when and if the patient no longer desires them.
Like her three fellow recovery coordinators at Akron General, Albaugh has a background in behavioral health. She previously worked for BrightView, an outpatient drug and alcohol addiction
treatment center that has since partnered with Cleveland Clinic.
Although she emphasizes the importance of addressing drug and alcohol abuse in any setting, Albaugh says the ED is particularly conducive to such interventions. “Being stationed in the ED allows us to get right to the heart of the problem,” she explains. “In this environment, our recovery coordinators are accessible to doctors, nurses and other caregivers who make patient referrals, which is key to finding appropriate support for patients who agree to treatment.”
Future funding for Recovery’s in Reach is pending, but Sanchez has high hopes that the program will continue to grow. “There’s no doubt that recovery support is an invaluable resource, and we’re proud of the scope and variety of treatment plans our program has been able to provide,” he says. “Our recovery coordinators and peer counselors do essential work that aims to spare our community from the destructive trail of addiction.”