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$500K grant to expand substance use peer recovery program across Virginia

Crystal Graham
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(© fizkes – stock.adobe.com)

A new $500,000 grant from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation will help the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics expand substance use disorder peer-based recovery programs in the Commonwealth to six clinics over the next three years.

The Health Wagon, a charitable clinic located in Wise and serving Southwest Virginia, has been selected to initiate the effort in the first year and the remaining five clinics will be chosen in year two and three.

Almost half a million adults in Virginia have a substance use disorder, according to statewide data.

For more than a decade, fatal drug overdoses fueled by opioids like fentanyl have been the leading cause of unnatural deaths in the Commonwealth.

The grant will help fund the replication of a proven peer-focused recovery model pioneered at the Bradley Free Clinic in Roanoke called The HOPE Initiative. Launched in 2018, the program incorporates certified peer recovery specialists, advocates with lived experience in long-term recovery from substance use disorder who connect patients to a trusted network of treatment and recovery services, while helping people access holistic healthcare services.

“One important aspect of the HOPE’s program success is that it operates at a free clinic,” said Rufus Philips, CEO of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. “Free clinics earn the trust of thousands of Virginians every year as they provide comprehensive, quality and compassionate care to patients. We are thankful for the opportunity to bring the Bradley Free Clinic’s proven treatment and recovery model to more clinics thanks to this generous grant.”

Unlike traditional recovery programs that operate from substance use disorder facilities or treatment centers, the peer recovery specialists work with patients from within the structure of the Bradley Free Clinic, a community-based healthcare nonprofit. The peer specialists leverage their lived experience to build trust and provide non-clinical, trauma-informed and strengths-based support for patients during their recovery.

HOPE peer recovery specialists work collaboratively with the Bradley Free Clinic’s medical, dental, pharmacy and behavioral health treatment teams to reduce barriers to care and serve as patient advocates and supports.

Over the years, HOPE has supported more than 2,000 people and more than 80 percent of its patients have completed treatment or recovery. Data from the HOPE program shows improved access to care and treatment outcomes, as well as increased patient engagement and reduced relapse rates.

“The HOPE Initiative is making an important impact in the Roanoke Valley,” said Bradley Free Clinic executive director Janine Underwood. “Integrating trusted peer recovery specialists into every aspect of our clinic helps patients feel more comfortable, which results in better patient outcomes and improved quality of life. We’re excited to help other clinics implement this successful model.”

In addition to connecting people to care, association leaders expect the program expansion to help reduce emergency room utilization for patients experiencing substance use disorder in Virginia.

“Anthem has been serving Virginia for almost 90 years, and improving the health of humanity is at the core of what we do,” said Jennie Reynolds, President of HealthKeepers Plus, Anthem’s Medicaid group. “This grant represents one of three selected by the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation to receive a total of $1.4 million over three years to address mental health with an emphasis on substance use disorder and we are proud to support the work of the Virginia Association of Free & Charitable Clinics and The Bradley Free Clinic to improve the health and lives of our future generations.”

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.