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Julie Dees, MA, LPC

With fiscal year 2019 officially underway and my first year as director of Behavioral Health under my belt, now seems the perfect time to reflect on how far the department has come over this whirlwind year. I’d also like to provide a glimpse of our goals for the year, which incorporate an evolving vision, program expansion, and a broadened reach.

Last summer, I stepped into this newly created role with the hope of building upon my experience as director of Behavioral Health at Warwick Family Services. I was eager to tackle new challenges, support a larger patient population, and develop a growth strategy centered around clinical excellence. PPMC’s Behavioral Health programs have consistently provided high-quality care, but they needed a unified vision and a fresh direction.

Currently, one in seven patients admitted to PPMC presents with an underlying substance use problem, and it’s important to identify these patients and help them recognize that recovery from drug and alcohol abuse is just as important as getting treated for an injury or illness. By “cross-pollinating” our providers and integrating our inpatient and outpatient services, it’s my hope that our improved communication and collaboration will translate to more efficient, effective care, better patient outcomes, and continued destigmatization.

Soon after I arrived, six members of my team applied to the Beck Community Initiative, a collaborative clinical and research partnership that offers underserved communities access to evidence-based recovery and wellness practices. The initiative requires six months of intensive cognitive behavioral therapy training, and my staff’s enthusiasm in taking on the time commitment showed me their passion for their work. The administrative support around joining the initiative also spoke volumes about how much behavioral health is valued at PPMC.

To align our programs with best practices, we introduced “Total Recovery” at Penn Medicine and became the first detox/rehab facility in Philadelphia to go tobacco and drug free. Research shows that giving up tobacco at the same time as other substances can support recovery and lead to better long-term outcomes. The same is true of the use of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) – the gold standard for treating opioid use disorder. I’m proud to announce that we have earned an expanded Department of Drug and Alcohol license that allows us to be a MAT provider and to include buprenorphine (Suboxone) as part of a comprehensive, evidence-based treatment approach.

In an effort to engage ambivalent clients and move them toward treatment, we also recently hired our first Certified Recovery Specialist (CRS). Drawing from their personal experience with addiction and recovery, our CRS is able to connect with patients on a deeper level – including in the ED after an overdose – which evidence suggests is a critical engagement point.

Finally, we just began a pilot program on 4 South with the goal of identifying medical patients who have an undiagnosed substance use disorder and providing advanced screenings, brief interventions, and referrals to treatment. By asking one simple, validated screening question about their substance use in the past 12 months, we can quickly take steps to help individuals with problematic substance use. Not only will this help to reduce length of stay and readmissions, but it ensures patients are more rapidly identified and linked with appropriate treatment.

It’s been a busy and rewarding year! If the many successes, changes, and challenges of FY18 were an indication of our department’s future, I’m excited to continue propelling PPMC’s Behavioral Health and Addictions programs to the next level and better serving the needs of our patients.

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