Collaborating to Combat the Opioid Epidemic – Scranton Times Editorial

This exclusive op-ed from MFHS President & CEO Bette Cox Saxton ran in the Scranton Times Tribune on Sunday, May 5th.

Last year, Maternal & Family Health Services celebrated 45 years of its Maternity Program, which today is still delivering babies through its Healthy Beginnings Plus Program at Scranton’s MFHS Circle of Care site and Commonwealth Moses Taylor Hospital.  Of the newborns delivered at Moses Taylor last year, 93 percent were considered high-risk deliveries.

With this significantly growing percentage of high-risk deliveries, our organization could not ignore the increasing number of pregnant women with Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) in our own programs and in our communities, particularly in Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Luzerne Counties.  The most recent data for Lackawanna and Luzerne counties reported that 150 newborns with Medicaid were born dependent on drugs, referred to as Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).  Since that 2016 report, we have seen addicted mothers in our programs triple in numbers!

We recognize that addiction is a disease that demands a comprehensive, compassionate approach to support, treatment and recovery.  This means leveraging our interventions to serve mothers and their children within our program models as well as collaborating with community partners to effectively coordinate services for the mother, her baby and her family.

The collective impact in addressing serious and other community issues, which means that stakeholders can perform their respective roles optimally while also collaborating with each other effectively, is an increasingly important goal of ours as we address emerging community needs. We are striving to nurture a culture of collective impact so that non-profits, private and public funders collaborate and grow together to best serve the needs of the community.

Our primary goals are to ensure that women with OUD have access to Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) and related addiction services, and to develop the cross-system linkages necessary to ensure services are coordinated across the system of prevention, intervention and treatment. With these goals in mind, we have successfully embarked upon on key, collaborative initiatives in our efforts to address this very serious national health epidemic.

One such initiative, Healthy MOMS (Healthy Maternal Opioid Medical Support), a collaborative effort among seven regional organizations and government agencies, offers a comprehensive approach to provide care and treatment to new and pregnant moms with OUD in Lackawanna and Susquehanna counties, where the rate of hospitalized infants born dependent on drugs (NAS) in fiscal 2016 and 2017 was nearly twice the national average.

Healthy MOMS embraces a non-judgmental and community-based approach to care and connects pregnant women struggling with OUD with a network of providers offering a range of services, from prenatal and postpartum care, addiction treatment and more. The group’s vision was to develop one coordinated care plan for opioid addicted women in which strength of communications systems exists among its partners. The intended impact is a “no wrong door” approach to entering of care.

MFHS is providing prenatal, labor and delivery, gynecological care, nutrition and family support through home visits by the highly skilled nurses in our Nurse-Family Partnership program. Women who participate in Healthy MOMS receive support throughout their pregnancy, at the hospital and after giving birth. This support can also include assistance with housing, childcare, transportation, medically-assisted treatment, substance abuse counseling, case management, mental health counseling and medical care for mom and infant. Since the Healthy MOMS program began in the fall of 2018, 40 women  have enrolled in the program.

In another initiative taking place at our Circle of Care site in Scranton, MFHS is a member of a Behavioral Health Integration of Care model with five community partners that is being facilitated by Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine. As a result of a grant from the Highmark Foundation, we added a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who is performing substance abuse and depression screenings for all of our family planning clients in Lackawanna County. We hope to replicate these evidenced-based screenings in other MFHS family planning centers and offer screening best practices to our interested network sub-recipients.

We also recently launched a school-based behavioral health project in Lackawanna County, spearheaded by a Masters Level Social Worker, who recently began screening middle school students and providing direct referrals as needed for behavioral health, substance abuse or reproductive health services.  Looking ahead, we have partnered in Geisinger Wyoming Valley’s forthcoming ‘Free 2B MOM’ project, in which MFHS Nurse-Family Partnership registered nurses will provide home visiting to recovering pregnant women.

In the final analysis, the opioid epidemic has hit our region particularly hard, and far too often it affects the lives of those most vulnerable, especially the young women, infants and families right here in our community. But we all must find solace in the fact that many like-minded organizations are seeing their way to contribute their individual resources and collaborate to ensure that the collective impact of our efforts truly do make a difference in this battle we are all committed to fight.

 

Regards,

Bette Cox Saxton
President & CEO
Maternal and Family Health Services