Baltimore is trying a new way to treat people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, opening up a unique facility that will offer a safe, short-term place for them to recover and connect with other services.
Officials call it a stabilization center, and they secured $6.2 million for it. The center will be the first of its kind in Maryland. Patients who meet the criteria will be taken to the 24/7 center instead of an emergency room.
"According to the recent Surgeon General's report, only 1 in 10 people with the disease of addiction are able to get the help that they need. For what other disease would we ever find this to be acceptable?" Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said Wednesday. "This is the beginning of Baltimore's efforts to create a 24/7 (emergency room) for addiction and mental health."
More than 700 people died of overdoses in Baltimore last year, she said.
The center will provide short-term medical care and connect patients with behavioral health and social services. It will also provide buprenorphine, a drug that can ease the effects of opioid withdrawal. Each patient's stay is expected to last less than a day.
Funding for the center is coming from several sources, including $3.6 million from the state budget. The Maryland Department of Health is contributing $2 million obtained through the federal 21st Century Cures Act.
Mayor Catherine Pugh said she hopes this center will be a model for others across the U.S.
"We've got to be able to meet the needs of those who are suffering," Pugh said. "This place will be able to refer people and make sure they get the assistance they deserve."
Wen is an emergency room physician. She said the ER isn't the best place for these patients to get help.
"These patients need behavioral health support and social and wrap-around services. ... We providers become frustrated that we can't get our patients the help that they need, and our patients and their family members are frustrated at the inadequacy of our medical system," Wen said.
The center is scheduled to open next spring. It will be housed at the former site of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in West Baltimore.
A pilot version is scheduled to start at the Tuerk House on Monday and will have space for 10 to 15 patients.
Andre Kennedy was a patient at the Tuerk House more than five years ago and will be a peer recovery support specialist at the pilot program.
"If this had been in play, maybe my transition would have been faster," he said.
Want to continue the conversation about opioids? Join Modern Healthcare on April 25-26 at its Opioid Crisis Symposium.