One can often find innovation where it is least expected, which is why health centers are such a unique model. Resources are often tight in the health center world, but that doesn’t stop them from being creative community-based problem solvers. We’re especially struck by the stories we hear about health centers fighting opioid addiction in their communities, and how they devise new ways to help the families and especially children who, all too often, suffer the collateral damage of addiction.
That brings us to Greater Lawrence Family Health Center (GLFHC) in Lawrence, Massachusetts, one of the poorest cities in the Bay State. Wedged between a Rent-A-Center and the Save-a-Lot store is the Office–Based Opioid Treatment (OBOT) Program. Here, patients can access medication-assisted treatment for substance use disorders in an integrative medicine setting. GLFHC employs the team approach, whereby the patient and medical team establish patient centered goals, and the care is thoughtfully coordinated. Services also include acupuncture group visits, massage, exercise meditation, yoga, herbal medicine and Tai Chi. GLFHC’s work in integrative medicine and the treatment of chronic pain, which is typically at the root cause of addiction, is ground-breaking and, more important, generating results. As one patient, a veteran, put it: “It is about finding ways to manage the pain, not to eliminate it.”
An important centerpiece of the program is the group medical visits which offer counseling, treatment, and support in a group setting.
“Group visits allow members to share best practices, innovate in a community, receive support from one another, and receive services they otherwise could not afford in Addition to receiving medical management from a physician,” explains Jeffrey Geller, MD, the Director of Integrative Medicine and Group Programs for GLFHC since 2000. “Group visits are proving not only to be cost effective and efficient, but seem to have better outcomes. We particularly have created a group visits model called ‘the empowerment model,’ which emphasizes trying new things and building relationships through projects.”
Geller describes one project that was conceived by a patient:
“One day a patient who had just been released from prison to probation came to his suboxone group visit that I run and said, ‘I wish there was some kid’s book I could read to my son that could let him know why I have been away and what I am going through.’ This set our group in motion and we found no effective books like this in our local library. We worked over the course of 18 months to create and refine this children’s book. We had no idea that it would ever be published broadly as it has been. It was really a way for our group members to think about addiction, their addiction in the context of children and family. There were about 12 people in all who helped write this book and are very proud of how it turned out.”
The book, entitled, “Daddy Used To Be Sick But He is Much Better Now,” was illustrated by artist and GLFHC staffer Jennifer Klein Roche. It is is available for free and can be accessed by visiting this link.