Virtual peer recovery team earns Wellspring Award

We are IU Health

May 31, 2019

Program that rolled out last fall to better serve those suffering substance use disorders has been recognized by the Bowen Center for Health Workforce Research and Policy.

The virtual peer recovery team for IU Health has been recognized for its commitment to service and well-being by the Bowen Center for Health Workforce Research and Policy.

The team received the inaugural Wellspring Award last week during the 2019 Indiana Health Workforce Summit in Indianapolis.

Peer recovery coaches work in the behavioral health virtual hub, located at 714 N. Senate Ave. They “see” patients virtually who come into emergency rooms for treatment of addiction or overdose. Nurses in the ERs of smaller hospitals around the state connect patients with a care team or coach in Indianapolis via a live video feed on a cart that is rolled into the room.

Coaches are Brent Casky, Eric Arnold, Spencer Medcalf, Jeff Fuller, Sarah Stillerman, Jay Berry and Danielle York. Dr. Anne Gilbert is medical director of the Behavioral Health Hub, and Lori Stark is director of Virtual Care. Kambui Abdullah is a counselor in the hub.

“I have experienced life as a person in active addiction and now am living in long-term recovery,” Stillerman said. “It’s important that our patients know that. We’re here to remove barriers, provide hope and help them find a pathway to recovery.”

Patients are identified when they come into the emergency department and are assessed as someone at high risk for, or struggling with, a substance use disorder. The hospital connects with the recovery coaches, and a coach speaks with the patient via the virtual care cart.

Peer recovery coaches — all of whom are team members in active recovery from addiction — aren’t meant to take the place of AA sponsors, counselors or accountability partners. They serve as a stepping stone by providing patients with resources to help them toward recovery.

Virtual care gives more Hoosiers, particularly those in rural areas, better access to behavioral health care and alleviates some of the strain put on emergency departments, said Dr. Gilbert. For many who don’t have access to a primary-care physician, the ED becomes their entry point for treatment, she said.

A $1.4 million award from the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction last year enabled IU Health to provide virtual and onsite peer recovery coaching services at IU Health emergency departments around the state.

Medcalf, a coach since August, said he was a little apprehensive with the virtual aspect of care at first, wondering if people would feel comfortable talking to a person via a computer. It’s turned out to be “a beautiful thing,” he said.

“There’s enough distance where they don’t feel they have to hold back. It’s not as intimidating. They can kind of let loose.”

– By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist

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