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A New Distinction for Safety, Quality and Outcomes in Substance Use Treatment & Recovery

Sometimes just getting through the day is a challenge for people with substance use disorders. Add the stress surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and it becomes overwhelming.

COVID-19 has contributed to increased sense of fear, isolation and anxiety, all of which can trigger increased substance use behavior.

“We’ve seen an increase in people seeking help. There’s been a need for more intensive and more frequent sessions. Patients are returning because symptoms of anxiety, depression and relapse are returning,” said Stephanie Howey, MSW, LMSW, CAADC, vice president of River’s Bend, PC, one of three programs in Michigan to earn designation as a Blue Distinction Center for Substance Use Treatment and Recovery.

The new Blue Distinction Center designation aims to help people find high quality, comprehensive addiction treatment options. To date, Michigan programs that have earned the Blue Distinction Center for Substance Use Treatment and Recovery designation are:

“Programs that earn this designation meet strict criteria for quality and outcomes. They offer person-centered care, using medical and psychosocial care teams that coordinate care around each patient’s needs,” says William Beecroft, MD, medical director of behavioral health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

These quality measures are important all the time and have become even more significant during the unique demands of a public health crisis.

For residential or inpatient programs, the COVID-19 pandemic has created the need for social distancing in program settings that provide benefit in close-contact group sessions and shared living spaces.

“Our biggest goal is to avoid disruption in care. We looked at how to maintain our program standards and quality,” said Elizabeth Bulat, M.D., FASAM, medical director of Addiction Services at Maplegrove. “We’re focused on staff and patient safety, and follow proper infection control protocols.”

Because of the social distancing required during the pandemic, outpatient programs have been providing therapy services through telephone or video conference.

“At Sacred Heart, we quickly transitioned all outpatient appointments to telehealth. This allowed patients to continue with their essential services from the comfort of their home,” said Paula Nelson, president and CEO at Sacred Heart. “We’re able to provide patients with tools to help them manage stress, anxiety and depression, and we’ve seen positive outcomes.”

“This is a strange time for everyone. For people without a good support network or who are already struggling, this is a very challenging time. Online support systems and telemedicine help people stay connected,” said Dr. Bulat.

For the Blue Distinction Center designation, facilities must also offer medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – a way to treat opioid addiction that includes a medication component and behavioral therapy. It can be provided as an inpatient or outpatient service.

“At River’s Bend, we now have five addictionists that we can use for outpatient detoxification and management of medications,” said Bruce Goldberg, LMSW, ACSW, SAP, CAADC, president at River’s Bend.

“Blue Cross has supported MAT training sessions for primary care and emergency physicians statewide and encouraged coordination among physician practices and substance use treatment programs. So, people in need can more quickly begin MAT and receive expedited follow-up care from a treatment and recovery program,” said Dr. Beecroft.

Substance use, particularly opioid use, has increased in Michigan over the last two decades, with an 18x increased rate of death from opioid overdose from 1999 to 2018. Designations such as the Blue Distinction Center recognition helps people find vetted, quality treatment and recovery programs that are focused on the patient.

“We understand that addiction is a chronic brain disease. Earning this designation affirms our commitment to providing quality services to men, women and children each year,” said Nelson.

“Patients already feel fear and have emotional barriers upon entering treatment. We hope that with the Blue Distinction designation, patients will feel an initial sense of trust in us, and that some of the initial roadblocks to early recovery will be diminished,” said Howey.

For more information or to find care from a program designated as a Blue Distinction Center for Substance Use Treatment and Recovery, go to the Blue Distinction Center Finder at bcbs.com.

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Photo credit: NoSystem Images

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