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Berkshire Care Providers Plan To Expand Addiction Services

This is a picture of Berkshire Medical Center's sign
Jim Levulis

Like much of the country, western Massachusetts is dealing with a substantial increase in opioid and substance abuse that is taxing existing services. Now two area care providers are seeking to expand their capabilities to deal with the epidemic.The Massachusetts Department of Public Health recently approved a 30-bed, long-term recovery unit at Berkshire Medical Center for people suffering from opioid and substance abuse addiction in Pittsfield. The new unit is designed to stabilize patients after an initial detox program at places like BMC’s McGee Recovery Center. Dr. Alex Sabo chairs BMC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health. He says the Clinical Stabilization Services unit will be the first of its kind in Berkshire County.

“After a detox, which might take three to five days, a patient then in the past might be going back out into an environment where they would get less support or they might be exposed to other people using alcohol or drugs,” said Sabo.

The next closest unit is The Hope Center in Springfield, about an hour away. The new CSS Unit will offer behavioral health education along with individual and group counseling, according to its director, Shannon McCarthy, who also leads the 21-bed McGee Recovery Center which has an average occupancy of 18.

“There will be eight hours of educational groups that will consist of 12 steps – brain functioning, relapse prevention, seeking safety, anxiety reduction, acupuncture, music, art and pet therapy,” McCarthy said. “There will be wellness groups and the nurses will be doing groups on HIV, AIDS and hepatitis.”

People can stay in the CSS Unit for up to 30 days. Care coordinators will be assigned to help people transition out of the unit by setting up outpatient treatment plans and connecting those patients with primary care doctors, housing options and employment or education assistance. BMC will be hiring 22 people to staff the unit. An opening date has not been set.

A recent study by the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission found the state rate for opioid-related hospital admissions is 800 inpatient discharges per 1,000 residents. Sparsely populated Berkshire County’s rate is 70 percent higher. Pittsfield, Springfield and Holyoke are among the report’s seven identified “hot spots” for communities with more than 1,000 people.

The hope is that people leaving the CSS Unit who require a certain level of additional care can transition to a residential home like the Keenan House, run by the Berkshire County-based Brien Center. The agency is seeking state approval to open another home in Pittsfield. The new 16-bed center would be in addition to the 24-bed, co-ed Keenan House, according to Brien CEO Christine Macbeth.

“Our plan would be for Keenan House to become an all-male facility, the new home to become a female facility and within the confines of the second ho me be able to treat pregnant females,” said Macbeth.

Macbeth says people stay at Keenan from one to six months. Being the only such home in Berkshire County, it has an increasingly long waiting list lasting 4 to 6 weeks. It provides therapy and case management to help people better reintegrate into the community. Berkshire Health Systems, which runs BMC, is pledging a half million dollars to The Brien Center for the expansion, if approved by the state. Macbeth says the two organizations share a collaborative relationship.

“What we’re trying to get set up is a detox unit, a CSS unit and a second residential recovery home which will strengthen and expand the services in the Berkshires at a time when programs are really stressed from the increased demand for addiction treatment programs,” said Macbeth.

Macbeth says The Brien Center should find out if the new home is approved by June, the end of the fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the North County Cares Coalition, which formed after North Adams Regional Hospital closed in 2014, is calling on BHS to open an inpatient detox center at what is now the company’s North Adams campus.  

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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