May 1, Lawrence General launched the Bridge Clinic, a program that marks the next phase in an ever-evolving approach to addressing the opioid epidemic. The new clinic is a collaboration with Greater Lawrence Family Health Center that starts the treatment process in the Emergency Center, before patients are even admitted. It is modeled after several pioneering programs available in Boston.
“Like the rest of the health care industry, Lawrence General has come a long way in how it cares for patients with an opiate addiction over the past five years,” says Nick Weida, MD, who is spearheading a number of the hospital’s new substance use disorder treatment initiatives. “People with an opiate addiction have a chronic disease that needs to be managed, and our goal is to treat them with respect and meet them wherever they are in the recovery process.”
The Bridge Clinic consists of a registered nurse and community health worker—both specialists in treating addiction—who are embedded in the Emergency Center during normal business hours to consult with patients who have a substance use disorder and help them transition to treatment. The positions are funded through a state grant received by Greater Lawrence Family Health Center.
“The goal is to provide a link between the Emergency Center and outpatient treatment, regardless of the patient’s insurance, ability to pay, or language,” says George Kondylis, MD, chief of Emergency Medicine.
“We now have the ability to start Buprenorphine treatment and link patients directly to treatment in real-time or arrange for a guaranteed follow-up appointment the next business day. Our intention is to remove any unnecessary barriers to care and connect patients to treatment programs as soon as possible when there’s a small window of opportunity. This wasn’t possible prior to this program.”
The clinic also has an after-hour protocol, which enables physicians to initiate medication-assisted addiction treatment in the Emergency Center and prompts an immediate follow-up call from a Bridge Clinic staff member to arrange an appointment at a treatment program.
“Instead of avoiding the topic of opioid abuse, we are embracing it,” says Nick. “Having dedicated staff in the Emergency Center who can help patients address withdrawal symptoms and connect them to resources in the community is a huge step for the hospital. It changes the conversation and creates a therapeutic alliance. We may still see these patients again and again, but we can now keep track of them and chip away until they’re ready to make a permanent change.”
The Bridge Clinic is one of several programs developed in recent years to address the needs of patients with substance use disorder. Also included are the Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome program, which focuses on mothers and newborns experiencing opiate withdrawal, inpatient protocols that enable providers to maintain or initiate medication-assisted addiction treatment, and a new inpatient addiction consultation service. Collectively, these efforts are already having a positive impact on care quality and costs, patient experience, and outcomes.
You can be connected to the Bridge Clinic at 978-683-4000, ext. 2500.