Berkshire Health Systems opens new addiction services unit to provide longer-term care


Photo Gallery | Clinical Stabilization Services adds 30 addiction recovery beds at BMC

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Health System's new center for those struggling with addiction is not only an attractive space for patients, it's desperately needed to fill a treatment gap in the region, according to Director Shannon McCarthy.

With beds for up to 30 patients, she said the majority of those places would likely be filled before the official opening on Thursday morning.

"I have 15 on a waiting list," McCarthy said during a tour of the facility on Wednesday. "There are probably five or 10 more phone messages, and we haven't even announced the opening date ... Unfortunately, we won't have any trouble filling these beds."

The new Clinical Stabilization Services unit on the Berkshire Medical Center campus will provide a continuum of care following detoxification treatment at the McGee Recovery Center, which normally lasts up to five days.

Patients will now have from 14 to 30 more days "to continue to heal while also learning skills to help you cope once you get back out into society," said BHS spokesman Michael Leary. "This will give patients a much better chance of long-term success."

The unit also will act as a bridge toward longer-term services, such as at the Brien Center's Keenan House in Pittsfield or similar residential recovery facilities, which continue support for several months.

Located in space in the Edward Jones Building in the hospital complex formerly occupied by the McGee center, which has moved, the unit contains bedrooms spaced along a hallway, gleaming bathrooms and shower rooms; a treatment room for individuals and group clinical sessions; a dining area, a well-equipped fitness center and a laundry room.

The clinical staff of 22 employees will provide 24-hour supervision and services, McCarthy said, with at least one male and one female staffer available on each shift. The unit will be "fully inpatient," with the men and women staying in rooms in separate sections but otherwise living communally.

McCarthy said that, unlike at the McGee center, which focuses on short-term detoxification and medical care, the services will be entirely clinical or therapeutic — including helping patients with behavior modification and coping skills and providing counseling and case management services. Most of those in the program will remain from 14 to 30 days.

Leary said state funding will cover the unit's operation for the first six months, after which the funding will come from insurance or other payments, including Medicaid or MassHealth coverage.

There also will be "a big wellness component to the program," McCarthy said, including an emphasis on fitness and fostering a healthy lifestyle, along with exposure to yoga, meditation, acupuncture or other techniques to reduce stress and increase coping skills.

Allowing recovering addicts to spend 14 to 30 days in the facility provides "the next step beyond detox," McCarthy said. Previously, she said, patients leaving the McGee center typically faced a waiting list to find a bed at the nearest intermediate care facilities, in the Pioneer Valley.

When in the program, patients are continually with staff members and normally only leave the center for a supervised, structured visit to a doctor's office or for a court appearance. Family visit times are allowed on certain days as part of individual counseling sessions, McCarthy said, and there will be periodic family visiting days, during which relatives can ask questions or receive information on addiction.

McCarthy, who worked at the McGee center since 2002, most recently as the director, said that facility once was able to treat patients for longer periods, including during an intermediate care phase similar to what the Clinical Stabilization Services unit will now provide.

But the McGee center now focuses on the three to five days when medical services are required during detoxification, as the state's health care system and insurance reimbursement requirements are moving toward shorter acute care stays and toward creating intermediate services facilities.

The numbers of men and women seeking services at a given time will vary, McCarthy said, but the percentage addicted to opioids today has soared and those patients now outpace the number addicted to alcohol. In the past, about 70 percent of those being treated were alcoholics, but recently only about 40 percent are, compared to 60 percent addicted to opioids, including heroin.

"There has been a huge increase in opioid addiction," she said.

Those coming from the 21-bed McGee detoxification center are expected to make up a significant number of those at the unit, McCarthy said, but others may be referred from elsewhere in the medical community, or the person or his or her family can request services.

Leary said the state Department of Public Health, which is providing start-up funding for the unit, also has approved a plan to expand the 24-bed Keenan House, and to create a separate section for women.

Berkshire Health Systems has agreed to participate in that expansion, he said, by pledging $500,000 toward the project, provided the state allocates funding to sustain the expansion over time.

He added that, if the state DPH seeks further proposals for residential recovery expansion, BHS would be willing to cooperate again with the Brien Center and would advocate adding residential recovery beds in North County.

In another local development in addiction treatment services, the George B. Crane Memorial Center on Linden Street is expected to receive $75,000 in state funding to transform the volunteer-staffed, donation-funded facility into one of 11 state-funded recovery support centers and the first west of the Pioneer Valley.

The Crane Center hosts numerous peer-to-peer programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings seven days per week and offers other support as addicts continue their recovery.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.

Where to call ...

For information about the Clinical Stabilization Services facility, call 413-447-2927, 24 hours daily.


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