Dan Swayze 4

Dan Swayze, vice president and COO of the Center for Emergency Medicine of Western Pennsylvania Inc. 

Too often, overdose patients end up being discharged from an emergency room with no support for recovery, experts at an opioid conference said. 

A “warm handoff” initiative that is in its final stages of development for Cambria County will provide a mechanism for connecting addicted patients with help, said participants in Fighting the Opioid Crisis: A Community that Cares, held Friday at Pitt-Johnstown.  

The problem is that the emergency medical community has not traditionally interacted with the addiction recovery community, Dan Swayze, vice president and chief operation officer of the Center for Emergency Medicine of Western Pennsylvania, said at the workshop Friday.

“If you’re having a heart attack, we take you to a cardiac center,” Swayze said at the Pitt-Johnstown Living Learning Center. “If you are in a car accident, we take you to a trauma team.

“That’s not true for patients with addiction. We take them to an emergency room where they have no people specializing in that kind of treatment.”

A “warm handoff” program connects addicted patients with the opportunity to recover, Swayze said. 

“It is a system that traditionally has not been in place,” Swayze said. “It provides an opportunity to give the patient the right level of service that they need, and the right care, at the right time to deal with this very, very difficult disease.”

Trained staff from the state Center of Excellence at Alliance Medical Services will be available to respond to emergency departments around the clock, Alliance Executive Director Pam Gehlmann said. 

The counselors will help patients find detox or rehabilitation programs that are accepting patients. 

“We are working with the hospitals to develop a protocol,” Gehlmann said. “We are hoping that it will make a real difference.”

Separate structures for emergency response and recovery, along with patient privacy laws have created obstacles in development of a warm handoff, Swayze said. 

“They are different systems of care that haven’t had to interconnect,”  he said. “And with drug and alcohol, patient privacy laws are even more stringent.”

Despite the challenges, health care organizations and recovery programs across the state are committed to getting the programs in place, Swayze said. 

“We need to start pulling out all the stops to get these people into the right system for recovery,” he said. 

Gehlmann said Alliance has been working closely with Conemaugh Health System and Cambria County Drug and Alcohol’s Single County Authority to develop the warm handoff. 

“It’s been a tough road,” Gehlmann said. “It took a while to get the right people at the table to start taking it seriously. We are in the final stages before launching it.”

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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