By Nicole Hennessy
With the fate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the future funding of Medicaid and Medicare up in the air, Elaine Georgas, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services Board of Lorain County, is doing more than awaiting news from the state.
Georgas says she and her colleagues have remained active in communicating to regional and state legislators how important available medical treatment is for those suffering from substance abuse, as well as what types of treatment options work best.
While funding is a concern, Georgas explained models of care are being shifted, too.
For example, over the next eight years, behavioral health patients under Medicaid will continue to be moved to managed care contracts.
Georgas estimates there are at least 500 providers in Ohio that provide drug abuse or mental health services.
“Now we’ll have, I believe, four or five managed care companies overseeing all that for the Medicaid population,” Georgas explained.
“We’re watching the impact for communities — primarily with the opioid epidemic — to ensure that we maintain at least where we’re at today, and even where we’re at today, we’re only serving about 10 percent of the people that need help.”
Tom Stuber, president and CEO of The LCADA Way, a Lorain County treatment facility, said the only managed care organization he’s currently confident about is CareSource, which he noted is the only one that is not a for-profit organization.
Like Georgas, Stuber said it is important for his organization to continue communicating to legislators what treatment options are giving results, making sure patients are covered in the most beneficial way possible.
“Not everybody is looking at making sure that the treatment systems or the provider systems are as complete as they need to be,” said Stuber.
“I think some (legislators) are taking a look at cutting back Medicaid or running some restrictions. Certainly, the discussions about taking away the Affordable Care Act and not having a reasonable alternative in place beforehand can create significant harm to a lot of individuals and families.”
Regionally and nationally, advocates also continue to fight against acute care as the go-to response for treating drug addiction.
“As much as we can keep learning about addiction as a chronic disease and how to work with that in communities is very important,” Georgas said.
“There’s a lot of people that think we can do acute care models and wonder why people relapse. Relapse is part of recovery for many people.”
What would work better, according to advocates, is a focus on long-term care for recovering addicts.
“If we don’t change from acute care to a chronic model, what often happens is the high-end costs exist,” Georgas said.
“Right now people will end up in emergency rooms and criminal justice settings. If we have a more comprehensive community approach, we can reduce those high-end costs and hopefully reinvest them to where they should go to save everybody money, and then we’ll see some positive impact with what we’re doing.”
Long-term success stories and community education, Georgas said, are the keys to helping community members understand what’s been proven to work in reducing drug abuse.
Jim Coyne, founder of Assist Avon Lake, which has now branched out to include Assist Communities, says he’s been working with city leaders on an Avon/Avon Lake opioid forum.
The forums usually include a panel of speakers who give up-to-date information on the state of the heroin epidemic and offer families of addicts and those seeking more information access to local groups involved in the fight against addiction.
Some are skeptical of the impact, but Coyne, Georgas and other advocates continuously highlight the importance of community involvement and awareness.
While Georgas is glad to see families have somewhere to turn at these forums, she says she constantly hears comments like, “I didn’t know where to turn to help my family member,” signaling to her that,
“We need to do better in getting messages where people will receive them.”
Whether this is at grocery stores, libraries or schools, Coyne says he is also working to take the message beyond forums and outreach, though these initiatives will remain an important part of his mission to connect families and addicts to organizations that can help in spreading awareness.
Coyne said lately he’s been reaching out to cities regionally.
“We could have more multicommunity events,” he explained.
“But at the same time, have more specific community training workshops in our respective towns.”
Coyne agreed that without community involvement there is little hope for any government initiatives that are rolled out.
Georgas, however aware and involved she remains in conversations regarding state legislation, focuses locally and encourages others to see the benefit of doing so.
“I think (legislators) need to know that local communities have local solutions always. The culture of our communities really have value,” she said.
“Community problems require community solutions.”
Contact Nicole Hennessy at firstname.lastname@example.org
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