As part of the city’s efforts to stem the tide of opioid addiction, Maimonides Medical Center (MMC), 4802 10th Avenue, is debuting the Relay program, part of HealingNYC, a New York City Department of Health initiative.
Maimonides is the only Brooklyn hospital involved in the initiative, which aims to bring wellness advocates that are always available to meet with individuals struggling with their addiction.
The announcement was made at the hospital on Thursday, October 26 as MMC’s President and CEO Ken Gibbs and Chair of Emergency Medicine Dr. John Marshall were joined by First Lady of New York City Chirlane McCray, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Dr. Herminia Palacio, Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett and others to discuss the program that aspires to reduce opioid-related deaths by 35 percent.
Gibbs began by citing a quote, “We should treat the patient, not the disease.
“We are pleased to be joining a program implemented by the city Health Department that is doing just exactly that,” he said. “It’s in the context of opioid overdose, a crisis that is gripping our city and nation. The Relay program that we’re here to talk about saves lives. It does it by bringing the right resources at the right time for people that are at their most vulnerable.”
“It’s a unique and innovative program and it relies on what we know as wellness advocates,” added Bassett. “These are peers and people who have life experience with the problem of opioid dependence.”
McCray discussed how people still associate addiction and substance misuse with weakness, moral failing and a lack of discipline.
“Often when they speak of overdoses, they speak in hushed whispers, or offer ignorant condemnations that don’t acknowledge the humanity of the people they are talking about, but the truth is these are real people and New Yorkers with goals and aspirations and families and loved ones like you or me,” she said “They are dying at alarming rates and the communities around them are hurting so much. We need to embrace a public health approach that treats people who are addicted humanely just as we would treat someone who is suffering from any other chronic disease like asthma or diabetes.”
Palacio discussed her early days practicing in a public health clinic when she discovered a patient being tested for tuberculosis was suffering from heroin addiction after a lengthy discussion.
“It takes every moment and every conversation because you never know which moment you are going to be able to reach someone at that moment when they’re ready to listen and act. It takes all of us having these conversations,” she said.
She added that Relay will offer a team of trained people who are ready to step in and counsel patients right after they survive an overdose.
“It’s a moment of tremendous opportunity,” Palacio said. “To have somebody who has walked this walk say ‘I’m here and will walk by your side’ is something tremendous that we can offer with compassion and dignity.”
“For us, this program fills a really important piece of a spectrum of care we like to be able to provide patients who present to the emergency department with opioid issues,” said Marshall, who stressed that this epidemic affects one in every five people in the country. “These are patients that show up every day. Sometimes, it’s someone with an overdose but sometimes it’s someone who has had a chronic pain problem for many years and has found themselves addicted or having substance abuse they didn’t anticipate but developed over the course of time.”
Prior to being introduced at Maimonides, Relay was piloted at Richmond University Medical Center in Staten Island, Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, and New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights, reaching 92 individuals in four months.
The program will receive $4.3 million in annual funding from the city after it expands to 10 emergency departments by 2019. HealingNYC aims to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 35 percent over five years.