Editor’s note: This week — October 4-11 — is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. This article is an expanded version of a feature story in the recently published Nursing Annual Report.
It is no secret that the alarming increase in drug overdoses and deaths has made the burgeoning addictions epidemic in Maryland a state-wide public health emergency.
During the past year, Shore Behavioral Health (SBH) has established new services and community relationships to help UM Shore Regional Health’s five county region combat addictions. SBH offers an inpatient behavioral health unit; an outpatient addictions program; an intensive, mental health outpatient program; and an emergency evaluation team.
Going back two years, drug-related admissions to the inpatient unit began to increase. “Currently, about 70 percent of the admissions to our inpatient unit have a significant addictions component,” says Jaclyn Weston, BSN, RN-BC, nurse manager, Behavioral Health Services. “Our staff, working in both inpatient and outpatient services, recognized the need to do more about addictions.”
The SBH nursing team identified several strategies, including expanding public awareness; enhancing staff preparedness to deal with addictions issues; increasing inpatient addictions programming; and increasing capacity for inpatients with co-occurring addictions and mental health challenges.
Enhancing staff expertise was an important priority, and SBH nurses rose to the challenge. Five pursued and completed additional professional training and certification in addictions treatment. “I am most impressed that these nurses initiated this on their own, to strengthen their clinical nursing skills,” says John Mistrangelo, ACSW, LCSW-C, program administrator for SBH. “Their advanced training complements their determination to help patients meet the challenges of addiction.”
During the past year, UM SRH nursing administration supported the addition of a second therapist with an emphasis on addictions recovery and care, increasing addictions expertise on the inpatient unit and allowing for three additional beds.
Progress also has been made in increasing public awareness of addictions treatment and recovery options in the five-county region. One of the most visible signs of UM Shore Regional Health’s commitment to its mission, Creating Healthier Communities Together, is Recovery for Shore. An all-volunteer coalition that includes SBH staff as well as representatives of other addictions treatment and recovery organizations throughout the region, Recovery for Shore promotes the individual’s right to recovery through advocacy, education, and demonstration of the power of recovery.
“We are getting the word out that millions of Americans are leading productive and meaningful lives in successful long-term recovery,” says Recovery for Shore member and SBH nurse Tracie Nolan, BSN, CARN. “We share information, participate in rallies and lobbying initiatives, and sponsor community events to help encourage and enlighten the public about the reality of recovery.”
In September, National Recovery Awareness Month, the group organized the 2nd annual “Scoop Scoot,” a family event at Thompson Park in Easton, and the first annual Gratitude for Recovery Dinner, which attracted 280 people for a celebration at the Elks Lodge in Easton and featured guest speaker Keith Mills, WBAL sports news broadcaster who is a strong advocate for the recovery movement.
In concert with UM SRH leadership, community volunteers and a host of organizations and agencies devoted to behavioral health issues, SBH nurses and other staff are working to find community solutions to the problem of drug and alcohol addiction.