Health professionals at Saginaw Valley State University are determined to secure resources to improve health for people living in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
SVSU recently received a 2-year, $352,574 grant from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund to establish an addiction recovery support team specializing in patients 60 and older at the Bay Community Health Clinic in downtown Bay City.
The SVSU-supported regional health clinic will bolster its staff and resources in an effort to save lives and treat a demographic left especially vulnerable to the nation's deadly opioid addiction crisis.
The health clinic was established in January 2015 through a partnership between the Bay County Health Department and SVSU, which provides much of the staff and resources for the clinic. The facility largely caters to clients less likely to seek treatment at more traditional medical facilities. Beginning in January 2019, the clinic will begin adding services for the growing number of senior citizens suffering from addictions to alcohol and drugs, including opioids.
“The older adult population is really under-recognized in this opioid epidemic,” said Kathleen Schachman, SVSU's Harvey Randall Wickes Endowed Chair in Nursing and a nurse practitioner at the clinic.
The medical and mental health needs of the older population are far more complex, and substance use disorders are often under-recognized, she said.
“Health care providers often attribute their symptoms to aging or to other co-occurring health conditions,” Schachman said. “Due to stigma or a lack of age-appropriate services, older adults fail to get the help they need. This calls for addictions care that is tailored to the unique needs of the older adult, and that's what we want to provide.”
The grant in part will fund additional staff for the clinic including health care-trained professionals from both Ferris State University and Recovery Pathways, an Essexville-based outpatient rehabilitation program for individuals suffering from drug and alcohol addiction.
The Bay Community Health Clinic is no stranger to helping those with substance use disorders, but the staff largely has been limited to treating those clients for mental health issues. To treat physical dependence relating to substance use, the clinic has referred individuals to other facilities. The Michigan Health Endowment Fund's support will change that.
By January, the clinic will staff a specially-trained nurse practitioner who will be certified to prescribe buprenorphine, one of three medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of opioid use disorder. Health care professionals equipped with that type of certification are rare in the region, Schachman said.
“And some of the rural areas we hope to impact – like Arenac and Oscoda counties – have zero prescribers of buprenorphine,” she said.
The grant will allow the clinic to add a nurse practitioner to prescribe medication-assisted treatment, a substance use counselor and a peer addictions recovery coach. The clinic utilizes an integrated approach – teaming professionals in nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy and social work – to address physical and mental health issues on multiple fronts.
The funding also will support the clinic's educational component.
Since its founding, the clinic has been staffed by faculty members with experience as medical professionals. They have been supported by students – largely from SVSU but also Michigan State University and Wayne State University in previous years – who provide help while receiving hands-on training from the faculty. The new grant will allow SVSU and Ferris State to embed opioid addiction recovery material in the classroom curriculum.
“This isn't just about how we can help here and now,” Schachman said. “We're preparing the next generation of healthcare providers to more adequately deal with this crisis.”
As January approaches, clinic staff will prepare for the new resources and advertise the facility's expanded service – known as The GRACE (Gaining Recovery in Addiction for Community Elders) Project – to community members who one day could be saved by it.
The Bay Community Health Clinic is located within the Bay County Health Department building at 1200 Washington in Bay City. The clinic provides primary care medical services for patients of all ages. Those in need of such services can contact the facility at (989) 895-2035.