In an effort to provide more face-to-face interaction with overdose patients, the Cambria County commissioners unanimously approved state funding that will allow the hiring of additional personnel at a local outpatient treatment center.
With $500,000 in state funding for 2016-17, Alliance Medical Services, located at 1419 Scalp Ave. in Richland Township, will be able to hire about 10 caseworkers, recovery specialists and on-call crisis workers to assist addicts and their families.
In July, Gov. Tom Wolf named Alliance one of 20 statewide Centers of Excellence for drug treatment, providing funding from the Department of Human Services to expand programs.
The funding approved by the commissioners Thursday will enable Alliance to expand its treatment capacity in Johnstown from 500 to more than 550 patients.
A division of Pinnacle Treatment Centers, Alliance operates primarily as a counseling center, but also offers methadone maintenance treatment for opioid addicts.
Additional staff will allow for the “warm handoff” program – from an emergency room to treatment center – created by the state Department of Drug and Alcohol to be implemented in Cambria County and make sure recovery specialists follow up with and refer help to overdose patients.
Fred Oliveros, Cambria County drug and alcohol case manager, said four recovery specialists, three on-call crisis workers, two caseworkers and a licensed counselor or social worker will be hired.
On-call crisis workers will work with Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center’s emergency department “so people don’t fall through the cracks” between an overdose and discharge, he said.
Ronna Yablonski, executive director of Cambria County Drug Coalition, said warm handoffs allow face-to-face interactions to help addicts understand the reality of an overdose – a near-death experience that can have other consequences such as criminal charges or job loss – and lead them in the direction of recovery.
“We’ll continue to partner and promote this,” Yablonski said. “I think it’ll make a difference.”
“There’s no replacement for human interaction,” Oliveros added.
Once the new Alliance employees are in place, Oliveros said he wants to pass along the on-call crisis line information to the Southern Alleghenies EMS Council in hopes that it can relay the information to family and friends of addicts who want help.