Bernstein Fellow Spotlight: Erin Hultgren
Erin Hultgren, a Bernstein Fellow and Program Manager at Gaston Family Health Services (GFHS) is currently assisting with a behavioral health initiative that will improve and expand the delivery of substance abuse services and Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) to underserved populations with opioid use disorders. This initiative is funded by the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) through their recent Substance Abuse Service Expansion, which awarded a total of $94 million in funding to health centers across the United States. GFHS was one of seven centers in North Carolina and one of 271 centers across 45 states to be awarded.
The additional grant money will enable GFHS to expand behavioral health and substance abuse services to serve its patient panel as well as extending services to both pregnant women and people living with HIV/AIDS and opioid addiction. Through its history of collaborative work with the Gaston County Health Department (GCHD), GFHS will work with GCHD and other community partners to identify pregnant and parenting women and HIV+/AIDS patients who need a more integrated approach to their opioid addiction including primary care, behavioral health, MAT and counseling services. Identification is only the first step. The ultimate goal of GFHS is to not only identify these patients, but also provide them with the integrated care they need to achieve and sustain recovery.
Additionally, GFHS will enhance their existing integrated model by:
- Increasing the number of patients screened.
- Connecting identified patients to treatment.
- Hiring additional behavioral health providers to connect patients with access to MAT treatment.
- Providing training and education for providers on best practices for opiate prescription.
- Working with patients and community members on the availability and use of opioid antagonists.
As the HIV program manager for GFHS, Erin’s primary role in this initiative is to increase screening and education regarding the availability of testing and treatment for patients with or at risk of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C, both associated with opioid use disorders. Erin will work with behavioral health staff to update risk assessments to include questions regarding sexual health, HIV and Hepatitis C risk. Since integration and coordination of services is key to success, Erin will coordinate services between GFHS and health departments in the area to ensure patient’s have access to HIV testing and clinical services regardless of ability to pay. Although she’s new to the work of opioid addiction, she believes that an integrated care approach is the best way to provide support for these substance abuse issues.
“As we move forward, I think collaboration and communicating between partners will be our largest challenge and biggest asset,” she says. “Education will be critical – educating primary care providers, working with ERs, changing protocols, etc. Opioid addiction has far-reaching consequences and it will take all players at the table to conquer this public health crisis.”
For more information about Gaston Family Health services and their unique integrated care approach, visit http://gfhs.info.