All posts by fgreenagel

21Aug/17

To the Parents Who Lost a Young Child

In the last week, three couples that I have some connection to lost a child. Two of the deaths were the end result of a long struggle with severe medical problems, while the other was because of a car crash. I have worked with people on grief for many years, and spoken with hundreds of parents who lost an offspring, usually as a result of a drug overdose. But I have also counseled several who lost a young child or baby, and it is clear to me that burying a child is the most painful of all human experiences. This loss will always be with you, and may, in fact, define you.

This is not an area I specialize in nor claim a particular expertise. Though I have experienced my own difficult losses (my grandmother in 1995, my friend’s overdose in 2002, a divorce a few years ago), they are not as soul-searing as the loss of a child. Still, those losses, a highly developed sense of empathy, and my experience helping people with grief compels me to offer the following advice:

  • If you have another child, you should talk to him or her about what happened in clear and honest terms. Do not lie or us euphemisms. Your child or other children know that something incredibly awful has happened – children are incredibly attuned to their parents moods, facial expressions, body language and presence. Even if your other child is 2 1/2 years old, tell them.
  • It is also very important that you tell your other child (children) that he or she is not sick nor likely to die. All too often, when kids see this kind of thing happen to a sibling, they wonder if it will happen to them and they never ask or tell an adult what they are worrying about.
  • Your friends and family don’t know what to do or say. Some will avoid you completely, because they do not want to intrude or do not know what to say. Others might hang around or call all the time, hoping to comfort you with their presence or some activity. Though this is very difficult, it will help everyone involved (including you) to let people know what you need. And please be aware that what you need during the first week may be different than month three or year two.
  • The previous point may be tough to accept. You might think, “Who cares if my sorrow makes other people uncomfortable? Why should I worry about them when I’m the one who has lost my world?” Those are fair thoughts, but you still need other people. As does your family. Being clear that you need space or company or words of condolence or silence will ultimately help you.
  • There may be some people who say things like “his time was up” or that “God called her home” or “he is in a better place” or that it “was God’s will.” You may find it consoling, or you might find it incredible offensive and aggravating. People that say this to you mean well. They just don’t know what else to say. If it offends you, let them know and ask them not to repeat it.
  • Regarding your spouse, partner or ex: they are the person that also suffers this tragic loss the worst. He or she will grieve differently than you. It may come out as constant crying, silence, rage, withdrawal, throwing oneself into work, talking, some combination of all of the above, or perhaps something else entirely. I have seen couples get angry with each other at how the other grieves. You have each experienced the most terrible thing, don’t compound it by attacking each other.
  • Even though you are in a daze, you need to leave your home each day. Whether it is to go to work, school, church, therapy, the gym, grocery shopping or something else, you must venture out into the world. Time is going to feel incredibly slow and miserable, and walking around the house from room to room and staring at the walls or outside will not help. This is extremely common behavior.
  • Consider going to a support group or therapy. This may be an anathema to you, but a support group will be filled with people who have the same experience and can show you how they got better or worse. The support groups can be helpful years down the road, when other people have a hard time comprehending that this loss is still very much an active part of your life. A therapist who specializes in grief can provide positive support from a neutral source over a period of months or years.

Waking up each day may be the worst part of your day – as you come to and remember your loss and the wave of pain washes over you. The days will keep coming. I have no special words of comfort – there are no special words. There is the aforementioned advice, which may or may not work. You may not want it to work, but please consider trying.

09Aug/17

An Incredible Free Service for Veterans, Reservists, National Guard members, and their Families

On August 8th, I toured the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic in Philadelphia. It is located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, just west of Center City. There are other clinics in NYC, San Antonio, Dallas, El Paso, and Fayetville, NC. There are several more slated to open within the next year. To find the contact information for each clinic, click here.

Steven A. Cohen was born in New York. He went to Wharton and made his money on Wall Street. The 2017 estimate of his wealth is around $13B. His son served in Afghanistan. Mr. Cohen and his wife established the Cohen Veterans Network in 2016 with an initial donation of $275M. The clinics currently provide services for veterans, reservists, and National Guard members. They also provide counseling for family members. They see people for one hour a week. If people need a higher level of care, the professionals at the clinic work tirelessly to find appropriate services.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Pete Freudenberger, a social worker who earned his MSW from UPenn. He is also a veteran with a very interesting story. He is the Outreach Manager for the Philadelphia clinic and can be reached at pfreu@upenn.edu.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic was featured in an article on Philly.com on June 15. You can read it here.

This photo was taken from the aforementioned article on Philly.com.

 

06Aug/17

Are You Suffering Work Burn Out?

Social Workers and other helping professionals have high rates of burn out. People in the field will talk about it without describing how to actually look for it. I’ve put together a 20-question self-quiz that professionals can take to evaluate themselves. While it is not scientific, it should give you a good feel for where you are and whether  (and what) you need to change (this can be used to gauge burnout in other professions as well, though questions 2 and 18 should be altered or eliminated).

For a printable version of this, click here.

___________________________________________________________________

Are You At Risk of Burning Out?

A Self-Test for a Social Worker/Drug Counselor/Preventionist/School Counselor/Advocate

  1. Are 10% or more of your hours unpaid? (consider work from home, or emails & phone calls outside of your regular work day)
  2. Do you get weekly supervision of at least one hour per week?
  3. Do you have a self-care plan?
  4. Does it take more than 15 minutes for you to fall asleep at least 2x a week?
  5. Do you wake up in the middle of the night at least 2x a week?
  6. Do you sleep longer or shorter than you planned at least 2x a week?
  7. Do you wake up and feel like you haven’t had a restful sleep at least 2x a week?
  8. Do other people get credit for your work?
  9. Are you happy with your exercise routine?
  10. Does your work schedule or stress cause problems with your family (parents, significant other, kids) at least twice a month?
  11. Do you take an out-of-state vacation at least once a year?
  12. Do you feel like you have neglected friends?
  13. Do you feel like you have neglected hobbies?
  14. Are you in therapy at least 2x a month?
  15. Do you have conflicts (passive or aggressive) with co-workers at least 2x a month?
  16. Do office politics interfere with your job?
  17. Can you talk to someone about work stress other than your significant other?
  18. Have you had a client or student die within the last year?
  19. Do you know exactly what is expected of you at work?
  20. Does your job cause you to compromise any of your values?

 

Scoring guide:

+1 for yes: 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20

-1 for yes: 2, 3, 9, 11, 14, 17, 19

-3 – -7: You have a very good work-life balance and are a model for others

-2 3:   A worker with good mental health and decent job satisfaction will fall into this range

4 – 5:   Your job is a minor problem. Make a few tweaks to increase your health and possibly productivity

6 – 8:   Your job is a major problem. You should talk to your supervisor and therapist about making some major changes

9 – 13:  You should consider leaving your job in order to get your sanity back

06Jul/17

Seniors on Dope: What Medicare Is and Isn’t Doing in NJ

This article was written by Andrew Walsh that I edited. Andrew is a grad student of mine at the Rutgers School of Social Work. This is the third article that he wrote under my guidance this year (his first piece was on addiction hotlines and his second one on Medicaid in NJ was published last month).

_______________________________________________________________

Substance abuse continues to be a topic that receives coverage on both a state and federal level. While the main focus is on opiate abuse and deaths among young adults, there is another population that abuses alcohol and drugs at a higher rate. On January 1st 2011, the first baby boomer turned 65 years old, marking the transition of baby boomers into the older adult population.  The United States has a baby boomer population of 76 million. New Jersey has a population of 2.2 million baby boomers, 1.2 million of which are over the age of 65. With the onset of physical and cognitive decline associated with aging, this population will put strain on medical and behavioral health facilities. Unlike prior generations, the baby boomer generation has had extensive exposure to alcohol and drug use growing up. This exposure has created an attitude of acceptance among baby-boomers regarding the continued use of illicit drugs and alcohol later in life. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) estimates that approximately 17% of this population is actively affected by the misuse of alcohol and/or prescription drugs. In New Jersey this translates into 204,000 older adults actively misusing alcohol and drugs. In 2015, approximately 1678 individuals over the age of 60 received inpatient treatment for substance abuse and misuse. Statistically, less than 1% of seniors who would benefit from substance abuse treatment actually received treatment. Seniors face unique problems with alcohol and drug misuse and abuse:

  • Physical and cognitive changes decrease seniors tolerance for alcohol and drugs
  • Increased rate of prescriptions places them at risk for adverse medication interactions
  • Common symptoms of substance abuse such as unsteady gait or forgetfulness are often mistaken as decreasing physical functions or dementia
  • Seniors are less likely to seek professional help for their substance abuse
  • Seniors are more likely to be isolated so their substance abuse goes unnoticed
  • Health care professionals rarely screen seniors for substance abuse
  • Current screening tools are designed for use criteria that is not relevant to seniors such as adverse impact performance in school and work
  • Lack of senior specific substance abuse programs

Older adults have significant physiological differences than younger adults that increase their sensitivity to alcohol and drugs.  As individuals age, they start to lose lean body mass and water which both decrease metabolism. With slowing metabolic rates, the body’s ability to metabolize alcohol and drugs slows, thereby accumulating in fat stores in the body. Prescription use is very common among older adults. A survey on women over the age of 65 showed that 94% took at least one medication daily, and 57% took five+ medications daily. The same survey showed similar rates among men. Cognitive decline is often associated with aging and can interfere with older adults’ ability to monitor their intake of alcohol and drugs and compliance with their prescriptions.

Older adult substance abusers can be broken down into two distinct groups. One group is comprised of substance abusers who had early-onset substance abuse prior to the age of 60. This group of early-onset substance abusers is typically male and is medically compromised after years of substance abuse. The later-onset substance abuser-group is mostly comprised of women and is less compromised medically due to their short exposure to the harmful effects of substance abuse. Later-onset substance abusers typically start abusing alcohol and drugs following stressful life events such as the death of a partner or friends, retirement, changes in loving situations, and declining physical health.

Pharmacology is used extensively with substance abusers for abstinence purposes. However, the physiological condition of older adults prevents the use of pharmacologic treatments for substance abuse. The medications for alcohol abuse put seniors at risk for dehydration as well as cardiovascular issues. There are opioid blocker medications that are effective in reducing the pleasurable effects and craving of opioids. However, the blocking agents also prevent the relief of pain, which is common and usually chronic with older adults.

In New Jersey, the government is pursuing a number of actions to actively combat substance abuse among the elderly. Governor Christie pushed for legislation that limits the initial prescription of opioids for acute pain to five days. New Jersey has also joined the prescription monitoring program (NJPMP). This system allows doctors to access patient prescription records for the previous two years, thereby decreasing the frequency of doctor shopping. From 2014 to 2016, New Jersey opioid prescriptions decreased 11% while physicians use for patient searches increased from 1.4 million in 2014 to 2.5 million in 2016. Governor Christie has also called for an additional 864 beds for inpatient substance abuse treatment. However, at this time none of these beds are earmarked for Medicare recipients. The NJ Department of Health and Human Services provides educational seminars to seniors about medication management and substance abuse. In 2015, 154 presentations were attended by approximately 3,300 seniors.

Individuals who abuse alcohol and drugs typically experience withdrawal when they stop using. For older adults who are already in a medically compromised physical state, withdrawal places significant stress on an already stressed body. Withdrawal in older adults places significant stress on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The safest treatment option for older adult substance abusers is that they use a medically monitored withdrawal management process. However, according to the New Jersey Connect for Recovery hotline, there are only six facilities in New Jersey that accept Medicare for in-patient detox.

The facilities that accept Medicare are Princeton House, Carrier Clinic, Core Health, Summit Oaks, Bergen Regional, and St. Clare’s. Combined these facilities have approximately 200 beds that are available for Medicare recipients for withdrawal management. With the average withdrawal management stay being seven days for older adults, 10,000 older adults will be able to receive substance abuse treatment on an in-patient basis in New Jersey.  This means 1 in 20 older adults who need in-patient detox will actually receive it.

However, not all beds available for Medicare recipients are actually earmarked specifically as only for Medicare recipients. Carrier Clinic is the only facility that has beds marked specifically for Medicare recipients. Bergen Regional accepts clients Medicare, Medicaid, and those with no insurance. Princeton House and St. Clare’s accept clients with Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance. Summit Oaks and Core Health accept those with Medicare and private insurance. This decreases the number of beds available for Medicare detox to approximately 100 beds. This means that 1 in 30 older adults who need in-patient detox will actually receive it.

There are a number of actions to be taken that will help address substance abuse among seniors:

  • Expand current DHHS educational seminars to reach more seniors
  • Create public service messages geared toward the adult children of seniors to educate on the signs, symptoms, and dangers of substance abuse among seniors
  • Expand the number of Medicare beds available for inpatient treatment
  • Make the use of NJPMP mandatory
  • Use screening tools that do not underreport substance abuse among seniors
  • Develop senior specific outpatient programs
  • Encourage seniors to attend mutual help groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous

Even if all of these changes are implemented, the overall number of seniors who are substance abusers most likely increase as more baby boomers turn 65. The actions described above are meant to produce sustainable decreases over time. As more baby boomers retire and start to decline physically and cognitively, coupled with an utter lack of senior specific services, substance abuse among baby boomers is likely to get much worse. Even if all of these changes are implemented, the design of Medicare reimbursement for doctors on a fee for service basis encourages doctors to spend less time with patients. Unless this aspect of the Medicare system is redesigned, no sustainable progress can be made among seniors with substance abuse problems. A tremendous amount of work needs to be done if there is to be any improvement in substance abuse among seniors.

Andrew Walsh, MHRM, MSW Intern, is an addiction triage specialist for
Carrier Clinic. He is currently pursuing his MSW and LCADC at Rutgers
University. Prior to returning to Rutgers, he worked in the Gulf of Mexico oilfield as an internal business consultant. Andrew is a lover of books, cuisine, and theater.

 

05Jun/17

A NJ Treatment Center Locked Out Its Workers and Transferred All Its Patients

On May 23, Sunrise House, an alcohol and drug inpatient treatment center in Lafayette, NJ, locked out all of their staff and transferred all of their clients to other facilities (until the Wall Street Journal printed a story on it last week, the New Jersey Herald was the only media outlet that covered it).

I worked at Hunterdon Drug Awareness from 2005 to 2010 and at the Rutgers Counseling Centers from 2009 to 2014. During that nine year period, I referred more people for inpatient treatment to Sunrise House than any other inpatient program. I did so because it was a non-profit treatment program that took almost every client I had ever sent them, regardless of ability to pay and they provided them with quality care. I also had some students that interned there, and they reported that it was a good place to work and that they usually received decent supervision.

In 2015, after a few years of suffering some financial problems, they were bought by the American Addiction Centers (AAC), a large for-profit corporation that has been buying up many inpatient and outpatient treatment centers around America. They are one of several large companies that have been gobbling up small programs (Recovery Centers of America is another such company). The investors behind these programs entered the market because of (1) the explosion of new customers (people addicted to opiates) and (2) the increased source of funding those customers have (the Affordable Care Act). National Public Radio made a harrowing piece about these large companies in 2016:

Linda Rosenberg, president of the National Council on Behavioral Health, which represents non-profit addiction treatment programs, worries that private investors are too focused on the profitable inpatient beds and will neglect the services that help patients re-enter society. “After rehab, you come back to your family and your family knows very little,” Rosenberg says. “You need a job, you need health insurance, you need medication-assisted treatment for addiction, you need counseling.” She says there’s very little private investment in all that. “I think that’s the biggest danger,” she says.

And that’s exactly what Tamasi found. When he met with the first group of investors, he learned they only wanted to buy Gosnold’s money-making programs — inpatient detox and rehab. “A detox setting or a rehab program, they have a much wider stream of where revenue can come from,” Tamasi tells Shots. “They’re covered by insurance, people are willing to pay for it if they have the resources to pay for it.” The investors didn’t want the prevention programs, the long-term care or the school-based programs. They didn’t want to invest in the recovery managers that help people get back on their feet once they get out of rehab.

Within a  year of the American Addiction Center’s purchase of Sunrise House, I noticed two major changes: (1) clients were coming out of that program having less quality treatment than the 2005 -2014 period; and (2) student interns told me that the supervision was infrequent and that most staff members felt overworked and ignored.

The workers were apparently upset by the lack of security, understaffing, lack of supervision, inflexible schedules and the general degradation of services and morale at the facility. Last year, the workers at Sunrise House joined the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), a labor union of over 12,000 healthcare professionals in NJ. HPAE were engaged in negotiations with the American Addiction Center management for nine months and planned to strike on May 24. The evening before the strike was to take place, the AAC locked out all the workers and transferred all of their clients to other facilities. HPAE has claimed that the lockout was illegal (I do not know enough about labor law to know if this claim is true, nor do I know if the union’s strike was legal). On May 30, NJ Gubernatorial candidate (and probably the next Governor) Phil Murphy stood arm and arm with the union outside of Sunrise House.

A few thoughts:

    1. Anne Fletcher wrote Inside Rehab, a book about the treatment industry. She reported that workers around the country were generally overworked, underpaid, and undersupervised, and that had a direct impact on the lack of successful outcomes.
    2. American Addiction Centers and other large for-profit companies have accelerated this problem, as they have reportedly cut staffing and supervision to dangerous levels in search of higher profits.
    3. AAC (and other large for-profits) want to see this union fail. If it succeeds, it has massive implications for all of their other programs around America. More staffing, higher wages and more supervision mean diminished profits. This must be terrifying for them. They have drawn a line, and it has led to a lock out and transfer of clients.
    4. The therapeutic alliance between counselor and client is a big key to success. One of biggest predictors of treatment failure is if a client’s counselor quits or leaves while the client is in treatment. Even if they terminate in a healthy way, it is still leads to decreased outcomes. It is often difficult for patients with a substance misuse disorder to get comfortable in treatment or trust a therapist. The fact that AAC discharged or transferred every client in their facility rather than settle with the union illustrates how they have put profits ahead of patient care. The public will almost certainly never be able to truly know what the treatment outcomes were like for all of the affected clients that were forced to leave Sunrise House as a result of this dispute.
    5. I am quite sure that the AAC does not want this case to go before the National Labor Relations Board in the near future. Currently, the NLRB only has 3 of its 5 spots filled. President Trump has not nominated anyone for the other two. AAC may seek to delay this as long as possible in hopes that the President appoints anti-labor people.
    6. The dearth of local and national press attention is incredibly disturbing.
    7. Regardless of what happens between the treatment program and the union, it is clear that this scene will play out again in the future.
05Jun/17

The Medicaid Addiction Treatment Problem in NJ

This article was written by Andrew Walsh and edited by Frank Greenagel. Andrew is a grad student of mine at the Rutgers School of Social Work. This is the second article that he wrote under my guidance this year (his first piece was on addiction hotlines).

___________________________________________________________________

Addiction is a very popular topic in New Jersey. Television commercials focus on individuals who struggled, got help, and live a redeemed life. Radio ads discuss addiction and assure that help is only one phone call away at a variety of 24/7 hotlines. Glossy print ads show pristine facilities, smiling patrons, and families that are enjoying improved days. Governor Christie pushed for legislation that increases access to treatment. He has created new phone lines to provide guidance, expanded the number of in-patient beds, and signed legislation mandating a minimum of 14 days in-patient for addiction. At first glance, New Jersey appears to be poised for significant strides forward.

New Jersey has a population of approximately 9 million residents. Of the 9 million, 1.8 million are Medicaid recipients (half of whom are children). Conservative studies estimate that substance use disorder among NJ Medicaid recipients occurs at a frequency of 16.5%. By these estimates, New Jersey has at least 150,000 Medicaid recipients who suffer from substance misuse disorders.  Even with this conservatively low number, New Jersey has enough Medicaid recipients suffering from addiction to fill Yankee Stadium three times over.

For Medicaid recipients in NJ, options for in-patient detox are limited. At this time there are only seven facilities that accept Medicaid for detox. The largest is Bergen Regional, in Paramus, which has 90 beds for detox with an average waitlist of 5-14 days. St. Clare’s, in Boonton, has 16 beds for detox with a waitlist of approximately 14 days. Christ Hospital is located in Jersey City, has 8 beds for detox with a waitlist of 3-7 days. Hunterdon Medical Center is in Flemington and has 14 beds available for detox. Princeton House, located in Princeton, has a total of 27 beds across two programs for detox.  Steps is a program offered by AtlantiCare in Atlantic county (we could not confirm the number of beds available). Finally, Straight and Narrow, located in Paterson NJ, has 20 beds for detox, though we have been told that they are only for people aged 18 to 21 (the same age limitation exists for New Hope and Maryville).

Between the seven facilities there are a little over 175 beds available for detox. A typical detox stay will last five days. Each bed can provide a 5-day detox for 73 patients per year. If each bed available for detox for Medicaid recipients in NJ was filled every day of the year, approximately 1 out of every 14 Medicaid substance abusers would be able to get in-patient substance abuse detox.  However, while there are 175+ beds available for Medicaid recipients for detox, not all beds are specifically designated for Medicaid detox. The 90 beds at Bergen Regional as well as the 20 beds at Straight and Narrow are for Medicaid and Medicare recipients, as well as indigent population. The 14 beds at Hunterdon Medical Center as well as the 8 beds at Christ Hospital are for substance abuse detox as well as emergent psychiatric patients. The 27 beds available at Princeton House are for individuals with private insurance as well as Medicaid. Taking all of these factors into account, on any given day there may be only 100 beds available for Medicaid detox. Accounting for these changes alters the ratio of bed per patients increases from 1 in 14 to 1 in 20. To sum this up, it is very hard to get a Medicaid detox bed in NJ.

With so few beds, the wait-lists at the seven facilities has grown in length. Due to surges in requests for services, waiting for a bed can sometimes take weeks. A quick look at state alcohol related deaths and overdoses shows the danger associated with waiting. Excessive alcohol consumption and abuse resulted in 1,754 deaths in 2013 in New Jersey. Overdose deaths in New Jersey increased 30% from 1223 in 2012 to 1587 in 2015. The increase in overdose deaths is driven by heroin overdoses and fentanyl deaths, which increased 61% and 890% respectively from 2012 to 2015. Opioid overdoses are shown in the chart below. Additionally, benzodiazepine deaths  are commonly found in deaths associated with opioid overdoses. In 2013 3090 NJ residents suffered alcohol-related deaths and drug overdoses.

 

Year Total Opioid Death Heroin Fentanyl Prescription Painkillers and Benzodiazepines
2012 1223 596 42 585
2013 1336 749 46 541
2014 1304 776 142 386
2015 1587 961 417 209

 

Every day an average of nine New Jersey residents die from drug overdoses and alcohol abuse.  New Jersey has an adult population of 6.5 million. Statistically 52.7% of adults drink alcohol, with 10.39% of those that drink exhibiting substance use disorder. This translates in 355,909 adults abusing alcohol. Stephen Stirling of the Star Ledger wrote that New Jersey has at least 120,000 residents that are addicted to opioids. Between alcohol and opioid use disorder, the total is 475,000 New Jersey residents with a potentially life threatening substance use disorder.  Based on these calculations, 6.5 substance abusing adults per 1000 die per year. Applying this mortality rate to the Medicaid population with substance use disorders, an estimated 975 New Jersey Medicaid recipients with substance use disorders die per year. This means that every day, 2.75 Medicaid recipients die from substance use disorders. Over the course of a week, nearly 20 Medicaid recipients will die from substance use disorders. Based on the limitations of available beds and the length of the wait-lists, it is inevitable that many will die while they are waiting for a bed.

New Jersey has approximately 2400 in-patient beds for psychiatric services. To increase access to treatment for New Jersey residents, the NJ Department of Health called for the creation of 864 new beds for substance abuse in New Jersey. While adding new beds for in-patient substance abuse treatment is positive, only 5% these new beds are specifically earmarked for Medicaid recipients. With the addition of 43 beds for Medicaid recipients, the ratio of patients to bed on a yearly basis drops from 1 in 20 to 1 in 15. While this is an improvement, those beds will do little to decrease the length of wait-lists at the few facilities that actually accept Medicaid.

A common reason cited for the lack of Medicaid beds is the low reimbursement rates from Medicaid for substance abuse. Historically, reimbursement rates were so low that facilities lost money for every Medicaid recipient they took. While this argument may have had some validity in the past, it is not as relevant anymore due to recent changes. In 2016 Governor Christ Christie announced a $127 million allocation to increase reimbursement rates for Medicaid substance abuse treatment. The allocation is built on the premise that increased reimbursement rates will be attractive to service providers. The day rate for Medicaid in-patient detox was doubled from $204 to $408. At the new reimbursement levels, the reimbursement rate is no longer a barrier to entry for service providers. The big concern is that 85% of the allocation comes from a federal block grant (if the Feds cut the grants, then these Medicaid programs are in massive danger).

The lack of Medicaid beds for in-patient substance abuse is the direct result of a law signed 50 years ago that is still in existence today. The Medicaid Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) exclusion was signed as part of the Social Security Act in 1965. The IMD exclusion prohibits the use of federal Medicaid financing for substance abuse treatment in residential facilities that have more than 16 beds if 50% of the patients had psychiatric disorders. Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), substance use disorders are classified as mental disorders. Therefore, any rehab facility that only treats substance use disorders must still abide by the IMD exclusion.  The intention of the IMD exclusion was to shift responsibility for the cost of addiction treatment from the federal government to the state governments and to combat institutionalization. The unintended consequence of the IMD exclusion is that the 16-bed cap has created a significant barrier to entry for service providers looking to expand into Medicaid. With the cap so low, coupled with the low profit margin, it is not fiscally in the interest of service providers to expand services.  With the recent expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, the number of Medicaid recipients has grown. However, the IMD exclusion continues to maintain its strangulation hold on access to in-patient beds, thereby not allowing service providers to leverage the number of beds.

Possible changes to the IMD exclusion are limited because it is a federal statute. Even if states wanted to expand Medicaid offerings for substance abuse, they would be unable to without significant legislative efforts. There are a number of options to expand Medicaid offerings for addiction treatment. One option is for Congress to fully repeal the IMD exclusion. However, as the IMD exclusion has not been updated since 1988, it is high unlikely that Congress will repeal it when they have not pursued easier path of updating it. Additionally, repealing the IMD exclusion is not fiscally viable and therefore is unlikely. Another option is to increase the bed limit beyond the current cap of 16. While this option is promising, increasing the bed limit without increasing federal funding, resources would be exhausted early in each fiscal year. The most promising reform approach is for the states to file a section 1115 innovation waiver. This waiver allows states to design their own Medicaid programs as long as the programs provide equivalent benefits as those offered in the Federal Medicaid program. There are a number of states that have successfully filed section 1115 innovation waivers. These states include New York, California, Maryland, and Massachusetts. Several other states have filled the section 1115 waiver and are awaiting a ruling.

Filing for a section 1115 innovation waiver is the best option at this time to increase access to substance abuse services for Medicaid recipients. However, pursuing the waiver is not without potentially significant drawbacks. There is cause for concern that the current president will cut funding for Medicaid services. If the waiver is approved and service providers expand their offerings, they will have significant exposure if the funding is cut. Additionally, if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, almost 556,000 New Jersey Residents will lose their Medicaid coverage. With such a drastic cut, the number of beds required will still need to increase but not nearly as much as before. Service Providers that expand their offerings may be caught with increased overhead costs without any increase in revenue due to a much smaller client population to serve.

Substance abuse services need to be dramatically increased for Medicaid recipients in New Jersey. Every week some die while they are waiting for a bed. Even if current offerings were streamlined for maximum efficiency, only 1 in 14 would be able to get a bed for treatment. Increasing the Medicaid reimbursement rates makes providing services financially viable for organizations. Filing for a waiver increases the number of beds accessible. Repealing the Affordable Care Act is a threat to substance abuse treatment for Medicaid recipients. Additionally, funding cuts will threaten any progress made. Overall, treatment services for Medicaid recipients need to improve. Every dollar spent on treatment saves approximately seven dollars that would be spent on jail, court fees, attorney fees, and emergency room services. With the Medicaid population being so large and having such a frequency of substance abuse, extensive changes need to be made immediately.

_________________________________________________

Andrew Walsh, MHRM, MSW Intern, is an addiction triage specialist for
Carrier Clinic. He is currently pursuing his MSW and LCADC at Rutgers
University. Prior to returning to Rutgers, he worked in the Gulf of Mexico oilfield as an internal business consultant. Andrew is a lover of books, cuisine, and theater.
26May/17

A Plan to Regulate Sober/Recovery Housing

There has been all kinds of terrible news about the problems caused by sober/recovery homes in NJ, PA, FLA, OH and a number of other states. These concerns have existed for years, and they include overcrowding, a lack of expertise, workers that are using drugs, and death. These programs are neither licensed, nor regulated, and rarely supervised in any way by a true substance abuse expert. I sent this letter to the NJ State Senate Health Committee on May 13, 2017, and I am publishing a copy of it now in the effort to further the discussion and help the public.

________________________________________________________________

 

To the NJ State Senate Health Committee:

I am writing regarding  S-3161 (recovery housing).  Many states around the country have had problems with their sober/halfway/recovery houses. Florida created a certification that went into effect last year, but most of them have still not earned it. They are still mired in problems. Ohio created a voluntary certification (that is overseen by the industry) and the state also provided 2.5M to support the expansion of services. Because of the voluntary nature of the certification, the Ohio sober houses are still rife with problems (no curfew, people using, little to zero accountability, client brokering).

I suggest the following:

  • A state certification or license be required to own/operate a sober/recovery house
  • All staff must submit to a criminal background check
  • 24/7 staffing required, particularly overnight
  • A minimum urine screens of at least 1x a week (self reporting abstinence from substances is not effective). These can be instant tests, rather than send-away lab tests. Screens should test for at least 7 different substances and always include alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, benzodiazepines, heroin, opiates, and methamphetamine.
  • A requirement of a blackout period for the first 30 days. This means that there is a curfew for new residents during that period (10 pm to 7 am, with early morning exceptions for work).
  • At least monthly supervision of all workers by a LCADC to ensure quality control. Despite this not being a clinical setting, there should be some oversight and supervision.
  • Clients that are on medication assisted therapies cannot be denied. Many sober homes are operated by people in recovery, and they often have a bias against medication assisted therapy. Those on medication assisted therapy should be required to adhere to best practices, which mean weekly urine screens and outside counseling of at least 1 hour a week.
  • Reasonable access to 12-step meetings and treatment (with a 1 mile walk) or a van service is provided at least once a day for each.
  • An exemption from ADA compliance, as this can be too costly.
  • Penalties for violations including fines, revocation of license/certificate and possible jail time.
  • Oversight of the programs provided by some state agency.

Owners and operators of these programs will argue that because they are in recovery, that they know better than DMHAS and the state government. Please do not be swayed by arguments that regulation will force them to close. There are a few programs that exist in the state already that exceed my recommendations and they are financially well. Please do not fall prey to their arguments that they can self-regulate and that the industry will watch itself (I can’t think of an industry that does a good job regulating itself).

17May/17

Three Modern American Playwrights That You Should Know About

I attend, on average, about one play a week (some weeks are stronger than others – between May 24 and June 3, I’ll see six plays). I also read one or two plays a week as well. We are currently enjoying a very strong time in American theater, but there are three modern playwrights that I want to highlight.

Lynn Nottage was born in Brooklyn in 1964. She attended Brown and then Yale. Ms. Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2009 for Ruined, a play set in a war-ravaged African country. Its main characters are all survivors of rape and genital mutilation as a result of the ongoing conflicts. She won the Pulitzer again in 2017 for Sweat, making her the first woman ever to win twice in drama. Sweat takes place in Reading, PA, and discusses the decline of the American working class (and how it has affected all races). The McCarter Theater in Princeton is currently showing her play, Intimate Apparel, which provides a snapshot of New Yorkers in 1905 who are otherwise memoirless. She teaches at both Columbia and Yale.

Stephen Adley Guirgis was born in NYC in 1965 to an Irish mother and Egyptian father. He has some interesting tv/movie acting and writing credits, but it’s his skill as a playwright that sets him apart. He won the 2015 Pulitzer for Between Riverside and Crazy, which features police work, addiction and relationships.I became aware of him about 10 years ago when I saw The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Rutgers. It is a play that is brutally honest, vulgar, and offers up stunning challenges to authority and world-revered figures. In the next year, the Signature Theater in NYC will show Jesus Hoped the A Train (about prison life), Our Lady of 121st Street (my 2nd favorite play of his after Judas), and it will debut a new play in 2018.

Ayad Akhtar was born in Staten Island in 1970. He is of Pakistani descent. He spent part of his childhood in Wisconsin and attended Brown and then Columbia. He won the 2013 Pulitzer for Disgraced. I read the play last January, and I was so moved by it that I immediately started searching to where it was currently playing (it was the most produced play in America during the 15-16 season). I found that the main character was smart, charismatic, and relatable, and his eventual tragedy was quite upsetting. I discovered that it was playing at the excellent Huntingdon Theater in Boston. Despite a recent heavy snowstorm, I drove up (with my parents in tow) to see it. We saw the play, stayed for the post-play talk with the actors, drove home and arrived in NJ around 4 a.m. We repeated that exact process this past April when we returned to Boston to see  The Who and the What (which is a comedy). In both plays, Mr. Akhtar portrays a Muslim experience in America. Some of his characters are proud of their Muslim heritage, while others challenge it or even outright reject it. Of all the playwrights currently living, there is no one whose future work I am more looking forward to.

 

 

15May/17

Getting Rid of Fraternities and Sororities: The Why and How

Fraternities and sororities are back in the spotlight again after the death of Timothy Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State University, this past February. To date, 18 fraternity members have been charged with a crime (10 with involuntary manslaughter, 8 with lesser chargers). Apparently Mr. Piazza and other pledges were forced to consume massive quantities of alcohol (his BAC was .43). The young man fell several times, including down a flight of stairs. The fraternity members put him on a couch, where he remained for 12 hours before medical services were contacted (he died two days later). Because of the in-house security system, there are videos of fraternity members jumping on his prone body, slapping him in the face, and punching him in the stomach (I expect that the video will eventually be leaked to the press and public).

Penn State officials shut down the fraternity where Mr. Piazza died. They have expressed sadness over this tragedy and vowed to make further reforms. Because this is a national story, other college presidents have weighed in, though many of them have said that because fraternities are private organizations whose property is off-campus, that they have little power to do much.

I wrote about the deaths of three Rutgers students in three different decades back in the fall of 2014. Each time, Rutgers officials stated that this was a terrible event and that their would be changes. Each death happened under a different college presidential administration, yet the words uttered and the lack of action were all eerily similar. Earlier this year, a student died at a fraternity at Miami University. The college president uttered lines from the same ineffectual playbook. This story played out at the University of Florida in 2006 (two students died). Two Greek Houses were permanently suspended at the University of Connecticut in the fall of 2016 after two students died. Six fraternity members were charged with crimes in relation to those deaths.

These are woeful stories. I have long argued that sad stories should not be the central basis of policy formation and changes in American institutions. Data is more important. That earlier mentioned piece on the deaths at Rutgers is one of the top five most read articles on my site. I received a large number of comments and emails after it (many from angry Greeks), and I wrote a follow up piece two months later after several more college deaths. In that article, I included a number of studies about the various problems that Greek life cause on college campuses. There is a large and fantastic (but incomplete) list on wikipedia that details hazing deaths (most of them are caused by college fraternities and sororities, and as you can see, they are increasing). We’ve known about the high rates of rape that are associated with fraternities for decades (here is a 1989 study). In June of 2015, Bloomberg put a brilliant article together about every allegation against (not incident, those are often unreported and sometimes covered up) fraternities and sororities during the first half of that year.

The Greeks and their supporters (this is made up of alumni and people that they pay) argue that Greek life is an essential part of college life and that they do service work. Cheating, excessive drinking, drug abuse, hazing, raping, and death all occur at higher rates with the Greeks than with the non-Greeks on campus. This is demonstrable and irrefutable. Their occasional service work and fundraising for worthy causes do not excuse their behavior.

It is time for College Presidents and the Boards of Trustees to shut down Greek Life. Here is how you do it:

  1. Do not let them use any university facilities for their Greek purposes. They cannot hold meetings or events on campus.
  2. Do not let them advertise any events on campus billboards and encourage the student newspapers to reject advertisements from the Greeks.
  3. Engage in a constant, blistering, fact filled education campaign where students and their parents are told about the problems of Greek life and the high rates of cheating, drunkenness, drug abuse, hazing, rape and death. This should be conducted by college officials and students. Social norming ads should be aired on college TV and radio. Put up warning billboards that are similar to anti-smoking ads.

Membership will plummet, and then continue with a slow but long decline. Fraternities and sororities will be squeezed for money due to the lack of new members. The vast numbers of alumni will die off and not be replaced. The culture will change. Greek Life will continue to survive to some degree, but it will be a vestigial part of college (like men who wear ties to class, dorm mothers, and low tuition costs). The question is this: how many more times will we have to read about tragedies and hear how College Presidents are saddened and outraged before meaningful and permanent changes are enacted?

 

24Apr/17

You are going to ask: where are the lilacs?

We bought a house in 2012. About five weeks after moving in, the seven lilac trees on the eastern border of the property bloomed and filled the afternoon and evening air with their powerful fragrance.  It was both presently wonderful and jarringly nostalgic.

I instantly remembered the last time I had noticed lilacs. There were three huge lilac trees on my grandmother’s property that sat about 15 feet in front of the back door (there may have been more, but three stick out). The three lilacs formed an imposing wall, behind which reigned several large apple and pear trees. There was a four and half foot hole that was between two of the lilacs – it was about five feet deep and it made a perfect pathway for children to the greater lawn and our favorite apple tree. The second photo shown here is from when I was five or six years old. It was taken in front of the base of one of the lilac trees (I regret the Princeton shirt, but my parents didn’t know any Rutgers alumni in 1982).

I was raised to revere Lincoln (my parents didn’t have to push hard). I discovered Walt Whitman in a high school poetry class my junior year, and though “O Captain My Captain” is my preferred Whitman eulogy for our 16th President, I very much like “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d” (it also reminds me of my father, who mentions it from time to time).

When I was in college, I took an art history class (renaissance art to the present). It was all new and the tests were difficult. The professor encouraged us to take individual trips to the MET to look at various pieces. I fell hard for Claude Monet (there is a room in the Impressionist section that I have a sense of ownership for). Last spring, I traveled to Paris and spent a great deal of time in museums, particularly hunting down the works of Monet and Rodin.

I saw this painting at the Musee D’Orsay (the fifth floor holds the distinction of being my world favorite, so far). Monet painted it in his garden at Argenteuil in 1872. It is titled “Lilacs, Grey Weather” (there is also “Lilacs in the Sun” and it is housed in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow). I stared at it for a long time, both close up and at a distance of over 20 feet. When I returned to NJ, I bought a print of it and hung it in my kitchen so I could see it every day.

When I taught high school English in Elizabeth, I discussed about 75 poems fairly in-depth. One of the poets that received repeat business was Pablo Neruda. His poem “I’m Explaining A Few Things” begins with the line “You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?” It is devastating. Neruda is known for musing on love and nature. This poem is about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, the destruction of Madrid and all the slaughtered children he saw. He mourns that markets of fruit & fish and the boxes of flowers that hung in Spanish windows. He cannot smell the lilacs due to the stench of gunpowder and the dead. It is a universal poem, and can be applied to current war torn regions around the world.

I returned from military duty yesterday evening to find my lilacs in full bloom. I can think of nothing better to come home to in the Spring from Army duty, where I had to take a gas mask off in a gas chamber. The scent of lilacs versus the stinging of chemical warfare training adroitly sums up the dichotomy of my life. “Where are the lilacs?” indeed.

Here are my lilacs.