Recovery Is Our Defining Moment

We had plenty of defining moments this past year: We outperformed our budget, had excellent quality numbers, improved processes, opened a new MATCH location in Avon and were visible in the communities that we serve.

But there is one thing that defines us above all else: Recovery.

Ever since my arrival at the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, I have been fortunate to be surrounded by expertly trained, caring and compassionate staff. I want to thank our clinicians, medical staff, support staff and community partners for all they have done to help our patients in recovery.

But no matter how good we are, mental health and substance abuse patients don’t always receive optimal care in healthcare settings. With our hospitals and emergency rooms becoming more crowded with behavioral health patients due to the opioid epidemic and other factors, it is important that we adjust our perspective and model of care.

One of those adjustments has been the addition of “recovery coaches” to emergency departments. These staff members are in recovery from mental health or substance abuse issues in their own lives, and now work with behavioral health patients to ensure that they get appropriate care. They can also help take the pressure off our other clinicians, especially in our busy emergency rooms.

I am a strong advocate of having people who have lived experience on our boards, in leadership positions and on our front lines. Recovery coaches are an example — they can reach patients in ways that most others can’t because their message is so personal and so powerful. If you’re feeling hopeless and lost, it can be very empowering to see someone who went through the same thing and is now living a happy and meaningful life.

Our early results have been excellent. More than 90 percent of our behavioral health patients are following through with their follow-up appointments, which previously was not the case. Our goal is for this to eventually be extended to hospitals across the Hartford HealthCare system and beyond.

This is especially important due to the ongoing epidemic in opioid and heroin abuse that contributed to a record number of drug-related overdose fatalities in Connecticut in 2016 — more than 900 deaths.

Although much has been done — including making Narcan available to clinicians and families; education of physicians on prescribing narcotics; expansion of our MATCH (Medication-Assisted Treatment Close to Home) programs that offer Suboxone and other services; the addition of patient advisory councils; and staff development programs such as Recovery University, taught by our own Karen Kangas — the crisis points to the need to do more.

We’ve made some strides, but we need to continue to educate the public and even our own colleagues on the value of having those with lived experience involved in our recovery efforts. That way we can be even more helpful to patients at the beginning of their journey, and provide the hope needed for them to recover long-term.

Patricia Rehmer

President, Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network
Senior Vice President, Hartford HealthCare