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At Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s trauma unit, peer support specialists provide patients with substance use disorders brief counseling, treatment referrals, and critically, hope.
“We’re trying to do prevention and early intervention for folks who already have a substance use disorder,” says Elizabeth Shilling, a professor in the WFBH Trauma Department who leads the peer counseling program. “We try to get them interested in talking about recovery or entering treatment, and we join them in that process.”
This program meets a critical need – there aren’t enough treatment options for North Carolinians with substance abuse disorders.
“You really want to increase your opportunities to engage with people, and if people are not able to access treatment in the community, then being where they are is really important,” she said. “They may not have a treatment provider in their community – but they do come to the hospital.”
But more than just an access point, the peer support specialists provide much needed connection for patients who are struggling with their mental and physical health.
“If you are actually admitted to the hospital, you are really sick,” Shilling says. “And if you are admitted because you have a substance use disorder, it’s usually a very severe use disorder.”
The support specialists, who often have their own history of substance use disorders, are able to discuss with the patient their current use and goals for recovery and connect the patient to resources in the community.
To see someone who was once in a similar place now live their life in recovery gives patients a lot of hope, Shilling says. More than that, it also helps physicians better understand the needs of their patients struggling to recover.
“We are able to engage with people and have conversations, get them to treatment, talk with their families – it’s such a crucial touch point,” says Shilling. “The cool thing about medicine and hospitals is we can bring everything together — the knowledge, expertise and different providers. Hospitals really are agents of change.”
Expanding telehealth services would help more effectively address the current mental health crisis and opioid crisis in our state. Telehealth enables patients to engage in virtual visits with their care provider or a mental health specialist, who can work with the patient at any time and place. Learn more about expanding telehealth services in North Carolina.