Woman claims hospital lacked options to connect drug addicts to treatment

Posted at 1:53 PM, Nov 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-01 19:41:08-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — You go to a hospital to get help, but a mid-state woman says a type of help for a loved one did not come fast enough.

Heather Gann took a relative to an emergency room in Robertson County because he wanted treatment for his opioid addiction. She said he took a hit when he started to lose jobs and relationships caused by drug dependency. However, she claimed hospital staff was not completely aware of the type of treatment options available.

"He said 'I want to go into a recovery program and I was told to come to the ER and you guys can help me get into a program,'" Gann explained. "They had no knowledge of anything that we were talking about."

Her relative was experiencing withdrawal symptoms during the visit as she described him as high functioning. Hospital staff eventually connected them to Mental Health Cooperative in Nashville but in their opinion, it was not the right fit. Gann said there should have been more than just one option readily available or at least had a case manager to help.

"I felt they should have had more education, pamphlets, the REDLINE number or stuff I had to find myself that they didn't have. If somebody walks into the ER department reaching for help, I think they should be able to have the resources or phone numbers for people to call saying these people are wanting help now," she said.

How cases like this are handled depends on the hospital and its policy, and in some cases, it relies on what that specific medical professional knows. Gann believes it is an example of the limited resources medical centers in smaller communities are facing amid the opioid crisis.

"In Robertson County where this happened, there really aren't any intensive outpatient services and there is no residential treatment provider in that county," Mary Linden Salter of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services told NewsChannel 5.

Salter is not surprised because even a medical professional may not be exposed to the service system, especially in smaller communities.

"There's always been gaps and those gaps tend to happen in rural areas," Salter added.

In Nashville, larger hospitals have specific systems in place to quickly send patients to treatment services like Vanderbilt University Medical Center's Bridge Clinic. The state also has the recovery navigator program in 29 hospitals across 16 counties. Hospitals call so-called navigators to meet people at the ER who need help for any type of addiction.

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services reports the program saw 871 patients in its first year. So far in the second year, there has already been 657 patients.

After making calls to the REDLINE and visiting TriStar Skyline Medical Center for her loved one, he is finally receiving help through Buffalo Valley in Nashville. She hopes hospitals in smaller communities implement a specific plan to help people like her loved one if they already don't.

"When they're reaching out for help, they need help now."

Salter said hospitals should at least be aware of informing patients about the Tennessee REDLINE to connect them all types of services. The 24/7 line is 1-800-889-9789.