By Nadine Ono.
Riverside County is making huge strides to work with its residents who have substance and alcohol use disorders. On February 1, it was one of two California counties to begin providing substance and alcohol abuse treatment to residents using expanded Medicaid funds through California’s Section 1115 Waiver, made possible by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
It’s now been three months since the county has expanded its services and the community response has been tremendous. For instance, the county had been running the call-in center for three years and historically has received about 140 calls a month from residents seeking information on services. Within the first six-weeks of implementation, the call-in line fielded 6,488 calls.
“It was like being hit by a freight train,” said Rhyan Miller, program administrator for the Riverside University Health System’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Program. “It was absolutely crazy. So our second week in, it was over 600 calls and then the third week bounced up to over 1,200 calls and it’s leveled out and right around the 1,100-1,200 range for the five weeks we were tracking.” The call-in line staff, which was anticipating about 300 calls, is now being expanded to accommodate the demand.
With the new program, Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid program) patients are now covered for a much greater range of drug and alcohol treatment options – from outpatient to residential treatment, some of which were previously not allowed under federal laws.
Counselors and clinicians will also have new tools to assess each patient’s particular condition and background and be able to refer patients to the most appropriate treatment, including Riverside University Health System Behavioral Health Substance Abuse and Prevention and Treatment Clinics and county-contracted providers. Combined the clinics and providers are currently serving more than 3,000 consumers a month in various levels of care.
Once a client contacts the call-in center, they are screened for services and, if appropriate, are assigned to a case management team to help them navigate the care system. They can be placed in 69 different programs, both county operated and contracted, to assist in their recovery needs. Time is of the essence when dealing with residents seeking treatment. According to Miller, before the implementation, consumers were placed on waiting lists for residential treatment for up to six to eight weeks. Now, consumers are being placed in residential treatment in 24-48 hours.
“And we have received less complaints regarding county mandated control of placement than expected because of the rapid transition into treatment and we’re getting more positive feedback, especially from consumers and families,” explained Miller. Other counties are taking notice and requesting consultation with Riverside County.
The success of the new program is helping many Riverside County residents. But it is threatened by the attempts to repeal the ACA. A coalition of state associations, including the County Behavioral Health Directors Association, have sent letters to the California Congressional Delegation informing them of the risks of repealing the law.
In Riverside County, lives have already been changed in the first three months. Miller recalled one interaction his staff reported with the mother of a 19-year-old who was pregnant, “She said, ‘You saved my daughter and grandchild’s life by getting her in.’ She was addicted to heroin. We got her into residential. We got her connected to methadone the same day. So stories like this is where we can see this is going to work.”