AMSTERDAM — Patients seeking treatment for addiction are often at a low point in their lives, making the relocation of the St. Mary’s Healthcare Chemical Dependency Inpatient Services unit to a brand new space with easy access to related services vital, according to Kayla Egan, director of behavioral health.
“People are coming here because they want to get well,” Egan said. “We know how incredibly important this service is to the people who walk through this door every day.”
The 14-bed chemical dependency unit on the second floor of the Memorial Building on Route 30 in the town of Amsterdam opened on April 1. Previous program space at the main campus on Guy Park Avenue had been limited to serving up to 10 patients during the pandemic.
Renovations were undertaken last year to create the new unit. The spring move-in was timed to coincide with the completion of individuals’ inpatient treatment to the extent possible.
The refreshed unit with modern equipment and furniture is welcoming to patients and staff with ample space for supportive program services.
“Our patients don’t come in feeling so great about themselves. We want them to know that we’re proud of them for coming in. We want to show how proud we are by the beautiful space we built for them,” Egan said.
The redone wing features single and double patient rooms, a nurses station, a unit coordinator area, exam rooms and group activity room that can be used for counseling or leisure time.
Treatment for addiction to all substances is available through the program to anyone 18 and older. Amidst the ongoing opioid epidemic spurred on by overprescription at the urging of pharmaceutical companies it is not surprising patients most commonly seek treatment for those substances.
“Over the past five years we’ve seen a huge increase in patients seeking treatment because of opiate use disorder,” Egan said.
Patients typically stay at the unit for just over 20 days receiving individual, group and family counseling to assist with their recovery. Medication assisted treatment can be prescribed and adjusted as appropriate.
Medications can be crucial by blocking withdrawal symptoms and cravings, according to Kelly Underwood, manager of addiction services at St. Mary’s.
“It’s an important part of their whole treatment package that we can offer,” Underwood said. “Even when somebody detoxes and they are not in withdrawal anymore there is such a craving around it that is a real driver and makes more stable recovery challenging.”
The use of medications to treat addiction is not the same as switching from one drug to another, Egan said. That unfounded belief has created stigmas around a recovery resource that can help people simply feel normal and able to go about their day.
“They are not getting high from this medication. They are feeling the way that we feel when we wake up every morning,” Egan said.
The chemical dependency program specializes in the dual treatment of addiction and mental health conditions. The relocation of the chemical dependency unit to the Memorial Building housing outpatient addiction, opioid treatment, children’s mental health and adult mental health services is part of ongoing efforts to streamline access to coordinated care.
“It gives us the ability to collaborate seamlessly, when it’s not all in the same building it’s a little more difficult,” Egan said.
Individuals initially seeking outpatient addiction services who providers feel would benefit from inpatient care can sometimes be reluctant or fearful of entering the program, Egan added. The ability to simply walk to another floor in the same building to tour the chemical dependency unit and interact with staff can go a long way to convincing patients.
Furthermore, anyone seeking both mental health and addiction treatment uncertain of where to go can easily be directed to the appropriate services and providers from visiting a single site or calling St. Mary’s 24/7 helpline.
“There is no wrong door,” Egan said. “We want people to access treatment when they need it.”
Patients at the chemical dependency unit are given physical exams to identify and treat any issues related to overall physical health and wellness. Substance abuse can lead to health problems, Egan acknowledged, while lingering issues causing discomfort can contribute to relapses.
“We’re failing if we’re only narrowly treating addiction,” Egan said. “We need to look at the whole person.”
The presence of the Rao Outpatient Pavilion and Amsterdam Family Health Center on the same campus provides easy access for patients to physical healthcare services.
Inpatient addiction services had an average occupancy rate of 94% before the pandemic. St. Mary’s is projecting the chemical dependency unit will exceed those levels to reach full occupancy.
The healthcare agency is preparing to meet the need for addiction services by adding six more inpatient beds and program space through further renovations of available space on the third floor of the Memorial Building planned next year.
Hospital administrators are still mulling how to repurpose the chemical dependency unit’s former space at the Guy Park Avenue campus.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.