From 2013-2017, Fayette County had the highest drug overdose rate per capita of any Indiana county, according to reports from the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH). Our region has been plagued with the perfect storm for an epidemic: Unemployment, lack of resources, poverty and hopelessness. All these factors contributed to our current drug epidemic.
As gruesome as that sounds, our emergency department saved more lives than any other in the state (per capita), as well. In fact, we were becoming “experts” in the use of Narcan and rapid response. In one evening in 2016, we had eight overdoses in a 12-hour period in our ED. With all the death, we were making news across the state, and something had to be done.
The community’s prayers were answered when Connersville-based Fayette Regional Health System (FRHS) received $9.2 million from the Ryan White Foundation and ISDH to build a withdrawal management (detox) program that could meet the needs of those with infectious disease along with other co-morbidities. This incredible opportunity did not come without challenges, but from those challenges came opportunity.
It is important to understand that rural health care presents unique challenges and barriers for patients and families, as well as for the organization and community. FRHS is the second-largest employer in the county, and more than 20 percent of our local economy is health care. We were ranked the seventh-safest hospital in Indiana by Consumer Reports and had to sustain that with an 87 percent Medicaid/Medicare payor mix. That is no easy task. What we do best, though, is provide compassion and quality care for our friends, families and neighbors. Hence, a new opportunity was born with North Star Recovery.
Addressing mental health is key
North Star Recovery Center is built on a foundation of empowerment and restoration, to offer hope to the hopeless. We treat addiction with the same quality of care and compassion as other chronic conditions, and we do it in a beautiful, calming environment. With opioid use disorder (OUD) being so prevalent today, we had the opportunity to help those around us understand that mental health challenges are often the root of this terrible, mind-altering disease. Therefore, our innovations include a psychiatrist onsite for patients, treatment of expectant mothers, intensive discharge planning and medical management for patients with disease processes that require ongoing medical management. For those who are lost, there is the North Star. We strive to be the light ensuring that our partners in wellness will be guided on the path toward long-term recovery.
Education promotes acceptance
To accomplish these goals and build North Star, we had to start at home. Our first step was education. We had to educate our own staff and community, because there are so many untrue myths and misunderstanding about addiction to overcome. The American Medical Association calls addiction a chronic, relapsing disease; yet, one-third of Americans still believe it is a moral deficit. Last April, to begin reducing the stigma and misunderstanding, we offered a free movie, “The Anonymous People,” at the local theater, followed by a community education panel. This event brought nearly 100 residents to the table to listen, learn and start to embrace the idea of a treatment facility in our community. The event prompted us to do a similar event in-house, to address FRHS employees’ questions and concerns as well.
Our stories of recovery were shared, and hope was restored to those who had achieved recovery and desired to work to help others. Some of our community’s best advocates joined our North Star team; we employ multiple peer recovery coaches and the former county health nurse who started our county’s syringe services program. Our team is an incredible group of people who share one common goal: compassionate care without judgment. This vision has earned us outstanding patient reviews for the services we provide at North Star.
“It takes a village,” we say about nurturing children; the same is true with addiction treatment. It takes the entire community coming together and shattering stigma associated with the disease. Communities can follow some of our direction by:
- Providing education for their communities, staff and families.
- Working with their legislators.
- Forming and participating in community task forces (coalitions).
- Providing treatment options in their regions.
- Creating prevention programs for youth.
As a state, we did not get here overnight, and we will not resolve the drug and alcohol problems that are plaguing our workforce, jails, families and communities swiftly. However, where there is help, there is hope.
Learn more about North Star Recovery at www.fayetteregional.org/addiction
For more about the movie “The Anonymous People,” visit www.fayetteregional.org/event/the-anonymous-people-movie-night