Hospitals Are Hiring People In Recovery To Support Patients Battling Addiction

By Paul Gaita 06/23/17

Peer recovery coaches are offering patients with addiction a more personalized treatment approach.

a doctor sitting at a desk talking to a man and woman.

There has been a recent increase in the number of hospitals nationwide that have hired people in recovery to serve as a voice of experience and support for patients with addiction. Their perspectives have given doctors and hospital staff a valuable tool in providing help to people with addiction—especially those that have suffered one or more overdoses—beyond the limited options of medication.

Doctors and nurses at Mount Carmel West Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found that they were treating the same patients with opioid addiction issues over and over without making much impact on their health. "Either they would be discharged because there's nothing more that we can do for them, or they would be discharged because they've decided they're going to leave and there's nothing we can do to keep them here," said Brian Pierson, regional director of outreach at Mount Carmel. He found an unexpected solution when Charlie Stewart came in to interview for a community health worker position.

Stewart, 25, had experience in working with hospital patients and peer mentorship, but it was his recovery from years of drug addiction that made him stand out to Pierson. During the interview, he noted that a patient had come in with an abscess on their neck. "Charlie made the recommendation, 'Hey, you know, that's commonly seen in somebody who's suffering from opiate use disorders,'" said Pierson. When Stewart's assessment proved right, Pierson saw the opportunity to not only increase but also personalize the hospital's treatment options.

"Having Charlie in that space at that time helped identify something that might not have been identified otherwise," he noted.

Stewart now provides support to emergency room staff at Mount Carmel West. "I get on and look at people's charts and find out if there are any overdoses or anyone with addiction related services that they need here," he explained. His approach is defined largely by listening to the patients' stories and reaching a mutual conclusion with them. "I don't want to put any words in their mouths," he said. "I want them to have an idea. Like, ‘Hey, I'm thinking about getting clean, I'm thinking about going to detox.’ And it's like ‘I can help you do  that.'"

From there, Stewart can connect patients with detox services or long-term treatment facilities, as well as food stamps or housing.

So far, 10 people have entered long-term treatment through Stewart and Mount Carmel West. For Pierson, Stewart is not only a valuable asset but also an inspiring example to those in search of recovery. "He tells a story of hope, [that] this is not a character flaw," he said. "If I go through treatment I can be successful, I can recover and I can look and sound like Charlie, who's standing in front of me now telling his story in a really powerful way."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.