AtlantiCare responds to opioid crisis by ramping up in-house talent

Responding to the opioid crisis in the state has required hospitals to include mental and behavioral health in their strategic plans in a way they may have never thought to do before.

Some hospitals are merging or working with established behavioral health facilities, while others are ramping up in-house talent.

AtlantiCare, based in Atlantic County, hired a pain management specialist in July to help the system respond to the crisis.

“(The specialist will) help our providers understand what appropriateness of prescriptions are. And also for those patients who do have complex pain needs, to have a specialist to serve them as well,” said Samantha Kiley, executive director of the AtlantiCare Foundation.

The new specialist is from the Cleveland Clinic, where she graduated from a fellowship about pain management, Kiley said.

Figuring out what strategy is best to use is hard, she said. Because the data lags reality.

For example, in 2016, the system saw a spike in use and overdoses, but in 2017, some trends went down slightly.

And Kiley said she doesn’t know what the cause of the dip is.

But rather than wait, AtlantiCare has employed an “all hands on deck” strategy, which includes working with community partners, ensuring EMS is carrying naloxone.

The new strategy also assists with medication disposal, she said.

“We want to be good stewards of pain medication by also making sure as we dispense (of pill properly), and make sure we assist patients with disposal,” Kiley said.

To that end, community pharmacies, the system’s outpatient pharmacy and the pharmacies in both hospitals — Mainland and Atlantic City — have disposal bins. The health system is also providing patients with disposal bags when they leave the facility, Kiley said.

“We actually, back in December 2017, went through our board and worked for six months to pull together a plan to respond (to the opioid crisis),” Kiley said. “One thing we are mindful about and intentional about is that we don’t want to duplicate services. We know groups out there already doing something, so we partner with them and, where we can, compliment and expand. If other groups are doing it well, we certainly don’t need to do the same thing.”

One way to ensure there is no duplication and AtlantiCare can help fill the gaps is by communicating with partners like the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office and other community groups, and by attending their meetings or informational sessions.

”It gives us a sounding board to make sure these are things the community feels are needed and necessary to combat this epidemic,” Kiley said.

Most of the support and funding comes from the health system’s foundation, and doesn’t take away from existing programs that receive funding, she said.

“We haven’t necessarily taken away from other programs, what we have looked at is how to restructure existing resources and realign for needs,” Kiley said. “We are thinking of current resources and how we can leverage them in new ways.”