Maine Health Access Foundation funds 10 organizations working in 13 Maine counties
People seeking treatment for opioid addiction may find it easier to get help in a primary care setting, thanks to a new initiative unveiled this morning at Penobscot Community Health Center in Bangor. The Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF), a non-profit health care foundation located in Augusta, announced $1.5 million in funding for ten two-year projects that will create new or expanded capacity to provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT), emphasizing people who are uninsured or medically underserved.
Penobscot Community Health Care (PCHC) in Bangor is one of the ten organizations that will be funded to expand local capacity for addiction care. Dr. Noah Nesin, PCHC’s Vice President of Medical Affairs, talked about the devastating toll of opioid addiction on Maine communities and what these new grants could mean for patients and their families.
“Opioid addiction is a brain disease that is wreaking havoc here in Maine,” said Nesin. “Because of the way this disease works, our window of time to get patients into treatment when they are ready can be very narrow – sometimes we have hours but we almost never have days. Without rapid response capacity, we will continue to miss opportunities to get people the help for which they are so desperate, and we will continue to lose people as a result. These new funds will give our families and neighbors a fighting chance, and it’s just the boost we need here in Penobscot County.”
Maine lost 378 people to drug overdoses last year and 313 of those deaths were opioid-related. The epidemic has sparked a multitude of community responses and legislative actions, but a common and recurring theme is the need for more local and affordable treatment options for people with a substance use disorder. Earlier this year the Maine Legislature and Department of Health and Human Services allocated $4.8 million to treat 400 uninsured Mainers with opioid use disorder.
“This is an issue that is bigger than any one organization can solve on our own,” said Barbara Leonard, President & CEO of MeHAF. “It’s going to take collaboration, coordination, and commitment to turn things around. But the momentum is building and MeHAF is proud to be a partner in making sure people who are uninsured or underserved have access to patient-centered care and a path to sustained, long-term recovery.”
Patricia McKenzie, an administrator at Kennebec Behavioral Health, another grantee, remarked, “There is so much to be done, but the low-hanging fruit is getting more coordinated and integrated treatment options in place. We are thrilled to finally have funding to build a real system of care among primary care, specialty care, consumers, and critical stakeholders that can result in long-term recovery for individuals and their families.”
This initiative builds on prior work that MeHAF supported with Maine Quality Counts (QC) and Maine Medical Education Trust (MMET) to assess the needs and capacities of health care providers and practices around the state. QC will continue to provide training, education, and technical assistance to addiction care grantees while MMET will continue to inventory, map, and build capacity for creating new MAT prescriber-counselor teams in other regions of the state.
“We didn’t get to this place overnight and we won’t get out of it overnight,” said Karyn Wheeler from Maine Quality Counts. “But by working together, learning as we go, improving as we go, and keeping our focus on patients and their families, we will be successful. Quality Counts is honored to be a partner in addressing this crisis. Thank you to MeHAF for moving us forward and being part of the solution.”
Today’s event included the premier for a new video series that will be used by MMET to recruit new prescribers and counselors for additional Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) teams in Maine. The 2-minute trailer features Dr. Peter Leighton and Catherine Bell, LADC, CCS from Bridgton Internal Medicine and can be viewed here: http://bit.ly/MaineMAT.
“The Bridgton model of addiction care is exciting,” said Susan Kring from Maine Medical Association. “We wanted to share their story of pairing primary care MAT with psychosocial counseling. We believe Bridgton’s success will inspire others. Physicians and counselors want to be part of the solution, and we intend to make it as easy for them as possible.”
MeHAF is not a newcomer to Maine’s opioid epidemic. Last year MeHAF supported the work of the Maine Opiate Collaborative (MOC), a blue-ribbon team of experts who rigorously integrated data and community input into comprehensive recommendations released in May 2016. The MOC recommendations have been widely recognized by policymakers and other funders as the blueprint for action to fight Maine’s opioid epidemic.
Grantees will each engage a broad-based network of their own partners, including primary care providers, behavioral health specialists with expertise in substance use and addiction care, emergency medical services, law enforcement, and peer support and mutual aid groups, to ensure the necessary referral relationships and wrap-around services to support expanded access to MAT in primary care settings.
“Every community in Maine is different, so every project needs to be tailored accordingly,” said MeHAF Program Officer Kathryn Rouillard. “Our grantees will be pursuing a variety of innovative approaches and partnerships in order to overcome the barriers to treatment that folks are facing in their communities. This is how we do things at MeHAF because it’s how we do things in Maine. This crisis is bringing our communities together, and that’s when we’re at our best. There is so much more to be done, but we’re hopeful that our contribution can make things better.”
Carol Kelly (207) 210-0789; Kathryn Rouillard, (207) 620-8266 x118
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