Detox beds are not a dime a dozen in Alaska. With just 30 beds statewide dedicated to those looking to get clean from opioids and other drug addictions, emergency rooms are taking the brunt of a growing opioid crisis, but the Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna is responding to the problem with a new six-bed detox facility.
Finding a safe place to detox from opioid addiction on the Kenai Peninsula and elsewhere in the state can be a huge barrier for those looking to start treatment. For many people, detoxing at home just isn’t an option. They may live with others who use or their withdrawals can be medically dangerous.
Those looking for a detox facility have to make your way to Anchorage or Fairbanks and most are placed on lengthy waitlists.
That leaves some with one option, the emergency room, but that can be incredibly inefficient.
“We looked at a quarter of records. If you multiply that out to be a whole year, it’s actually about $10 million worth of care that went into this population of folks that weren’t really getting better from it,” Dr. Kristie Sellers explained, referring to costly opioid-related emergency visits.
Sellers, a psychologist, is the director of behavioral health at Central Peninsula Hospital. In order to see how ineffective providing detox and other treatment services via the emergency room was, Sellers and her staff had to measure the problem.
They sifted through one year of medical records, pulling any opioid-related visits. She says fewer than 1 percent of those patients entered a long-term treatment program after leaving the emergency room, making a return visit more likely.
The hospital is trying to cut down on those costly visits by opening Care Transitions. It received a $1 million grant back in February to open the six-bed detox facility and it has already served about 20 patients since early August.
“It was a very complex process, figuring out who could staff the building and how to get them there and who could do this assessment and who could do that,” Sellers said, explaining the process of hiring a whole new medical team for the facility. ”We’re hoping to not get a waiting-list situation. We're really hoping to prioritize Kenai Peninsula residents, but we would definitely help anybody that needs help.”
While the detox facility is a step towards filling a large gap in treatment services on the peninsula, the hospital isn’t stopping there.
Sellers says its existing treatment services are also grappling with a shifting landscape. The hospital’s residential facility, Serenity House, has seen the number of injection drug users jump significantly.
“We actually saw in a 10-year period of time that people that we admit to Serenity House go from 3 percent admissions that were injection drug users all the way to almost 70 [percent], like 68 percent injection drug users,” Sellers said.
Those users have also become younger. Most are in their 20s, and this new wave of chronic abusers also come with a whole new set of problems.
They can take longer to detox, they may have additional medical problems from prolonged use, and most lack any job skills.
Central Peninsula Hospital plans to open a new in-patient facility right next to Care Transitions. The program, aimed at building life skills, will have its patients work at both facilities cooking meals, cleaning and doing other daily jobs.
Sellers hopes that with both facilities working hand in hand, at least 15 percent of those leaving detox will enter the new in-patient program, Serenity House or participate in other treatment services around the state.
“So, that’s something we’ll track on this program. Are we more successful at getting people connected to a treatment program, and I think we’ve probably gotten more referrals in the first month that we’ve been open than the entire year we looked at,” Sellers explained.
The hospital is also planning to give its providers a treatment guide to make sure physicians are referring patients to available resources.
Care Transitions hasn’t had a full load of patients just yet, but Sellers has no doubt beds will fill up once things get rolling. She adds the facility also has its eyes towards the future with the capacity to add four additional beds.