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SWFAS, LMHS team up to improve access to substance abuse treatment

By Staff | Feb 4, 2010

Southwest Florida Addiction Services and Lee Memorial Health System are working together to improve access to substance abuse treatment in Lee County.
SWFAS and 25 organizations nationwide were recently chosen to implement a program called the Accelerating Reform Initiative — a grant to improve the relationship between health systems and substance abuse centers.
In order to receive the grant, SWFAS had to choose and plan on working with a partner in the community to change the way people receive health care. The grant only lasts for six months and along with federal health care reform is poised to improve medical access to treatment for thousands of local residents.
According to Kevin Lewis, CEO of SWFAS, only one in 10 people with substance abuse disorders currently access care.
“With expected health care reform, we anticipate that there will be more people eligible for substance abuse treatment services through their new health insurance plans,” said Lewis.
The federal government already passed the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 — part of the $700 billion stimulus package — requiring employers to provide health insurance plans with options for mental health treatment.
Furthermore, federal health care reform is in the end stages of being signed into law and health systems are trying to get ready for changes right around the corner.
“Most people will have eligibility for care they didn’t have access to previously,” said Lewis, who estimates that the number of people visiting SWFAS may double.
Out of the 20 million Americans who need treatment for chronic addiction, only 2.3 million actually receive care, he said.
Not unlike other Americans without insurance coverage, those with substance abuse problems typically seek help in the emergency room or in other primary care facilities.
On the other hand, many other serious health problems result from the person’s lack of substance abuse treatment. Officials are hoping to stop these problems from developing before they overwhelm the hospital.
“Hopefully people will get the right care in the right place,” he said. “With this time of year, our hospital system is pretty clogged up.”
The initiative will help SWFAS and Lee Memorial Health System to reform methods of patient identification, outcome accountability, treatment and role of the family, as well as improve the health care work force, technology and infrastructure.
In the area of patient identification, for example, referrals to substance abuse treatment will come from all health care systems and not primarily through the criminal justice system.
The grant will afford SWFAS officials access to technical assistance, communication opportunities with peers and travel stipends to attend leadership forums.
For more information on SWFAS, visit www.swfas.org.