A Speedier Recovery: Rapid Access Treatment
Lester Gilkey knows about the crippling effects of opioid use disorder. The first time he got high, he was just 12 years old. Now, he’s 50 years old and has been in recovery for the past six years. He’s lived through some tough times. “I fight hard for my recovery. I’ve used lots of drugs. I’ve been in and out of prison and jail, and I don’t want to go back to that life. I’ve done a lot of stuff, but I’ve also forgiven myself for it,” Lester says.
I usually tell them I’m no different than you. You can do this, and I’m just here to help. - Lester Gilkey
Now, he spends his time helping others break the cycle of opioid misuse as they come through the emergency room doors at Northern Light Mercy Hospital. Lester is a recovery coach. When someone has overdosed on opioids, Mercy calls Lester to the emergency department to help patients begin their recovery. Mercy’s Rapid Access Treatment program allows doctors to give patients a medication called Suboxone, which eases withdrawal symptoms. Then Northern Light Mercy initiates ongoing support to increase a patient’s chance for recovery. This ongoing support begins with Lester. “I usually tell them I’m no different than you. You can do this, and I’m just here to help,” he says.
As a patient leaves the emergency department, they are referred to Northern Light Internal Medicine in Portland to set up an appointment with Sadie Knott, a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Often, Lester will go with a patient to that appointment. Sadie can prescribe medication to help with withdrawal symptoms as well as underlying mental health conditions.
“Most of the people we’re working with haven’t received basic medical care for several years due to past negative experiences they’ve had. We work hard to reduce any stigma. When someone comes in here for an office visit, it’s no different than any other patient. This helps build that relationship with patients to get them back into medical care,” explains Sadie.
Patients are also referred to a social worker and a primary care provider at Northern Light Internal Medicine where they receive primary care that can include routine physical exams, immunizations, vaccinations, cancer screenings, or hepatitis C screenings. Patients receive primary care, behavioral health care, and peer support all under one roof.
“At Mercy, our pillars include working for the community and supporting the underserved population. It’s gratifying and wonderful to see people who have been homeless for long periods, not having any regular support or primary care for years, coming to see you regularly, and managing their medical problems. You can see how their quality of life is improving over time. That’s rewarding for me,” says Megan Black, NP.
The program is still in its early stages, but its reputation is growing. Lester says people he sees on the streets ask how they can enter the program. They’re not waiting until they end up in the emergency department from an overdose. “I wish they had a program like this when I was using drugs. I think it’s pretty cool,” says Lester.