UVA Health is one of 10 hospitals and health systems in the United States who will receive up to $50,000 to create social-medicine programs in an effort to reduce barriers to care for opioid-use disorder.
The funding comes from Essential Hospitals Institute and will enable UVA Health to expand access of its opioid-use disorder clinic to patients across Virginia by providing money for social needs such as housing, transportation and food. Social needs sometimes limit a patient’s ability to obtain treatment.
“Providing funds directly to support patients’ social needs is something this clinic has never been able to do before but is something that patients have identified as a significant barrier to treatment,” Kelly Schorling, LCSW, a UVA Health social worker at the clinic, said.
The program is scheduled to launch in July.
Virginians who call the free statewide opioid helpline operated by UVA’s Center for Leading-Edge Addiction Research (CLEAR) – 1-877-OPIOIDS – will be offered assistance through the new initiative, as will appropriate inpatients seen at UVA Medical Center. Patients in need of assistance may also contact the clinic directly at 434-924-2241. Clinic providers hope to assist more than 500 patients through the initiative.
A new social-medicine program will also enable inpatients at UVA Medical Center to start on U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved medications for opioid-use disorder, get linked with a social worker and connected to the appropriate care, according to Schorling. She said patients will most often begin care at the UVA Health clinic before transitioning to a clinic closer to home. Patients outside the Charlottesville area will be connected by clinic staff with treatment providers in their local communities.
The goal is to address disparities in access to care faced by people of color as well as people with lower incomes. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose death rates increased 44 percent for Black people and 39 percent for American Indian and Alaska Native people between 2019 and 2020, compared with a 22 percent increase for white people.
“We plan to start linking patients with opioid-use disorder directly to our social medicine program and connect them to opioid-use disorder treatment resources, with an emphasis on getting them started on life-saving medication,” Schorling said.