As part of a pilot program, the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) have entered into an agreement with two off-Island detox centers to offer Vineyard residents immediate access to detoxification services beginning Jan. 1, 2017.
“The opioid crisis has been really raging here on the Island for the past couple of years,” MVCS executive director Julie Fay told The Times on Wednesday.
According to an MVH press release, the agreement, signed on Nov. 2, 2016, gives Islanders priority access to two treatment centers — Gosnold, in Falmouth, and Stanley Street Treatment and Resources (SSTAR), in Fall River. The centers will immediately find a bed for any Islander who voluntarily chooses to receive detox services and is assessed by the MVH Emergency Department, MVH Substance Use Disorder Team, or MVCS staff.
The program is made possible by a generous, anonymous donation. It will enable clinicians to access transportation, short-term housing, and pay other expenses associated with facilitating detox placement.
“We’re very happy, encouraged, and thankful to be able to work together,” Joe Woodin, president and CEO of MVH, said of the collaboration in a conversation with The Times on Wednesday. “Certainly the donation helped plant the seed and move us forward.”
The program is the outcome of a recommendation made by the community forum on substance use disorder (SUD) that came together last spring in the wake of a series of opiate-related overdoses. Made up of representatives from MVH and MVCS, the superintendent of schools, Island police chiefs, the drug task force, the YMCA, Vineyard House, and members of the recovery community, the forum explored ways to improve services, options, and prevention efforts for people with SUD. It also addressed issues of stigmatization and a lack of resources, according to Ms. Fay.
With no detox center on-Island, one of the forum subcommittees examined what happened to people with SUD when they needed to detox. Where do they go? How long does it take to get them to a facility? And how do they get there?
Ms. Fay said there was a critical need to provide support throughout this challenging process. The agreement, she said, looked at “negotiating some kind of priority access for Islanders, since we struggle logistically.”
“We’ve had five individuals who have accessed beds through this process, and all have gone [through it] pretty well,” she said.
On Wednesday, during the Dukes County Commissioners meeting, Ms. Fay and Mr. Woodin presented the pilot program as a way of educating and spreading information about the new service.
“We looked at the idea of growing our own detox, which is not really feasible from many points of view,” Ms. Fay told commissioners.
“It’s a very complicated issue, and the discussion of these issues is very broad. It’s not like an on/off switch,” Mr. Woodin said about SUD.
Newly elected chairman of the Dukes County Commissioners David Holway asked about the number of beds in both facilities off-Island. Mr. Woodin said they didn’t have an exact number, but there were “a lot.”
“Whatever the number is, it’s not enough,” Mr. Woodin said. “So the demand always exceeds the supply. And that’s the problem in many communities.”
Mr. Woodin said that wait times in detox facilities have been both “a burden and a challenge” for Vineyard residents. The pilot program gives Islanders priority on the waitlist — in other words, they’re moved to the very top.
Ms. Fay told the commissioners that in the five cases, 23 minutes was the quickest wait time, with roughly 3 hours being the longest. She said that although the patient most likely wasn’t able to get to the facility until the following day, they still held the bed.
MVH and MVCS staff, along with the intake staff at Gosnold and SSTAR, have established protocols to guide placement and transportation to the facilities, according to MVH’s press release.
In addition to detox placement, the agreement ensures that any patient to be admitted to either of the two addiction treatment facilities will be offered the opportunity to be accompanied to the facility by a recovery coach.
A recovery coach is a trained professional. Ho or she guides and supports a person in the recovery process, and helps to prevent relapse, develop goals, locate resources, and learn the skills necessary to live a sober life. This spring, MVCS provided training for 19 recovery coaches, and it has a staff of five part-time coaches.
“Island access to detox services is dependent on a complex set of transactions involving ferry reservations, and travel to and from terminals, and from terminals to destinations,” said Ms. Fay said in the press release. “Transportation from the Island to a mainland facility means physically passing liquor stores, bars, and places where drugs are readily available, which increases the potential for relapse. The warm handoff from the medical provider or staff to the recovery coach is a critical step to ensure the accountability and continuum of care for the patient.”
Nancy Paul, CEO of SSTAR, acknowledged the potential pitfalls Ms. Fay described in the press release. “We are well aware of the logistical challenges Islanders face, and the SSTAR family is delighted to participate in this access program,” Ms. Paul said.
Richard Curcuru, CEO of Gosnold, said in the press release that Gosnold has had a longstanding relationship with the Vineyard community, and that he and his colleagues were pleased to have a formal agreement in place.
“We are confident that this will improve access for those residents, and we look forward to our continued relationship,” he said.
To access this service, call the SUD emergency team at MVH at 508-684-4600 or at the MVCS emergency line, 508-693-0032.