BY QUINSHA JACKSON-WRIGHT | LEER EN ESPAÑOL
The Bridge Clinic, the result of a collaboration between Cottage Hospital and the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics (SBNC), was created to expand behavioral health services and offer medication assisted treatment for patients with substance abuse disorders in Santa Barbara. With the support of grant funding from the Santa Barbara Foundation in 2016, the clinic has been operating since January 28 and is staffed by two physicians, Dr. Erickson and Dr. Paule, along with a licensed social worker and Patient Access Navigator.
The clinic offers short-term treatment, with most patients staying for up to eight weeks, who are then referred to their primary care physician or other medical professionals who provide long-term services. Thirty-three patients have received treatment thus far, which averages out to one patient per day. If patients do not have a primary care provider, SBNC is available to provide assistance.
“We started very small. I had a fear that we would be overwhelmed immediately,” explained Dr. Charles Fenzi, CEO and Chief Medical Officer of SBNC. “Now we’re discussing what we can do to grow this and continue to sustainably manage the demand.”
The staff at SBNC says that a major advantage of the Bridge Clinic is its proximity to Cottage Hospital, therefore allowing hospital personnel to make the transition for patients quick and efficient.
“The second day we were open, a patient was released from the hospital and the charge nurse literally walked that individual across the street to our clinic,” recalls Maria Long, Director of Development and Communications at SBNC.
“There’s such a short window of time after an incident involving substance use, for an individual who has made the decision to seek treatment,” Long continued. “What’s great about the Bridge Clinic is that it’s right there during that time window for patients to receive the treatment they need.”
When asked what concerns prompted the collaboration between Cottage Hospital and SBNC, the staff says the large epidemic of opioid usage was a significant factor, along with a heavy volume of substance-related emergency room visits.
“The hospital reported there was a monthly average of 83 people visiting the emergency room for issues arising from a substance use disorder,” said Nancy Tillie, COO and CFO of SBNC. “To lessen the continuous cycle of [patients] going in and out of the ER without getting the [proper treatment], services from the Bridge Clinic are a way to help at that point in time.”
SBNC also has plans to expand services to the westside of Santa Barbara. The new facility will provide three additional exam rooms for medical care, six spaces for dental care, and two areas for behavioral health services.
In addition to the Bridge Clinic, SBNC pediatricians are engaged in an ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study program, which screens the parents of children ages 0-3 for risk factors that may have long-term effects on physical and mental health.
“If the child has one or more risk factors, or the parent has two or more, they are referred to a Patient Access Navigator who can provide resources for the family,” Tillie explained. “If there’s food insecurity or housing issues, they will be connected with the services necessary to address them.”
There are also therapeutic sessions available for families through CALM, with services provided onsite or in-home.
“The goal is to build resiliency that takes children and their families off the path of continued trauma,” Tillie said. “Studies show that [mental/emotional] trauma also has an impact on physical health, which leads to things like heart disease, cancer, and substance use. We’re starting early so that hopefully the Bridge Clinic won’t be necessary in the future.”
Starting on April 8, SBNC and Cottage Hospital will hold a lecture series to provide education on services offered at the Bridge Clinic.
“There will be an explanation of services provided and how they all interlink,” Long said. “If time allows, there will also be tours of the clinic, which is directly across the street from the old entrance of the hospital.”
The SNBC staff emphasizes the importance of making substance use treatment a community effort, and has several partnerships with other organizations, including the Council of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse (CADA), AEGIS, Sanctuary Centers, Direct Relief, and New Beginnings.
“These are organizations we can refer patients to, that have more services than what we may be able to provide at the time, or long-term resources,” said Tillie.
On May 14, 2019, the Bridge Clinic received the Better Together Award (including a grant of $25,000 to directly benefit the ongoing efforts of the collaboration) at the first annual Santa Barbara County Leadership Awards. To learn more about SBNC and its upcoming Bridge Clinic lecture series, visit sbclinics.org.