DAYTON — Premier Health is taking the next step in the fight against substance use disorder by establishing a Substance Use Navigator (SUN) program. SUNs work with patients in the hospital emergency department to complete chemical dependency assessments and provide linkages to care, including placement in treatment facilities and other wrap-around services. Premier Health is first in the region to implement a SUN program.
Substance use navigators must have experience with substance use disorder, nursing or social work. In addition, the most important characteristics that a SUN must demonstrate are passion to serve the community and a strong sense of compassion for the patients they encounter. It is imperative that a SUN connects with a patient in ways that other emergency department professionals cannot.
“California Bridge is a pioneer of the Substance Use Navigator program and has been instrumental in providing guidance to us,” said Kimberly Wascak, M.D., emergency center medical director for Premier Health. “In California, patients who are looking to begin recovery come into the emergency department and specifically ask for a SUN. We look forward to the day when patients who need help with substance use come into our emergency centers and request assistance from a SUN.”
When fully staffed, Premier Health will have eight substance use navigators. Currently, six SUNs are in place and cover Miami Valley Hospital North, Miami Valley Hospital, Atrium Medical Center and Upper Valley Medical Center. Premier Health is looking to hire additional SUNs at Upper Valley Medical Center and Atrium Medical Center.
In mid-2021, Premier Health, in partnership with ProMedica, received a grant from the Ohio Department of Health to treat emergency department patients struggling with substance use and connect them with the help they need. The Comprehensive Care for Substance Use in Ohio Emergency Departments (CCOED) program has enabled Premier Health to start a best practice by implementing the SUN program.
CCOED has three overarching goals: Identify patients with opioid use disorder (OUD) by implementing a screening process in emergency departments; manage OUD by implementing evidence-based practices in emergency medicine; and transition patients to long-term care and supportive services using innovative processes that improve pathways to treatment. These goals will be met through comprehensive activities structured around screening, medication-assisted treatment (MAT), naloxone distribution, linkages to care and a real-time treatment finder.
With the CCOED grant, Premier Health has implemented several innovative approaches for treatment of substance use disorder and addiction medicine. In addition to the SUN program, Premier Health’s Buprenorphine Self-Start program provides patients in the emergency department (not in active withdrawal) to be provided with patient education, as well as a three-day prescription to start when the appropriate level of withdrawal is reached. The Buprenorphine Self-Start program operates with support from OneFifteen. Premier Health has also created innovative policies to provide patients, family and friends with Naloxone to reduce overdoses related to opioids in our community.