It’s official: Eleanor Health, an outpatient drug treatment center in six states, including a site from New Jersey to Verona, has become the first New Jersey drug treatment program to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation and Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
Eleanor Health’s In-Office Opioid Treatment is a comprehensive outpatient opioid addiction treatment program, now certified to the rigorous standards set by CARF, an independent accreditation body for health and social service institutions. “We’re trying to take a whole person approach,” says Chris Borkowski, senior director of operations at the New Jersey clinic. “It means meeting each patient where they are and setting their goals based on what they want to achieve – if someone isn’t ready to fully detoxify, they don’t have to. We support the medical and physical health of patients through our nurses and physicians, their mental health through therapists and counselors, and provide ongoing support as they attempt to reintegrate socially.
This multi-faceted approach can be invaluable to recovering addicts, who often struggle with intense mental and physical symptoms during the process of withdrawal and detoxification. As difficult as treating opioid addiction can be in ordinary times, it was even more so for Eleanor Health’s office in Verona, which opened in May 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
“We have certainly seen an increase in patient numbers during the pandemic, even though we only opened in May,” said Srishti Michardani, co-founder and CEO of Eleanor Health’s New Jersey office. Opioid-related deaths increased nationally during the pandemic, as Americans faced isolation, loneliness and depression in response to mass lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19. While New Jersey has not seen a drastic increase in opioid overdoses in 2020 from 2019, 2021 is expected to eclipse the death toll from the previous two years, according to data collected in the first few months of the year. year.
As such, expanding access to treatment for opioid dependence was critical during the difficult months of 2020 and early 2021. “We launched telehealth during the pandemic,” says Michardani, “and this helped us reach more patients. The use of telehealth increased across the medical field in 2020 as healthcare providers were forced to travel remotely to treat patients. Michardani says telehealth has been particularly important in increasing access to treatment for opioid addiction. “One of the biggest barriers to accessing opioid treatment is the stigma surrounding drug addiction,” she says. “With telehealth, some of this stigma is removed because the patient has more privacy and control over getting treatment.”
The Eleanor Health team hopes that in the long term, their program will be able to further reduce barriers to accessing treatment. The selection of Verona as the site of a new office was part of this process. “We are looking to underserved areas, which may not have opioid treatment facilities readily available to people who need them,” says Michardani. “Next, we are looking to find a location with easy access to transport in the area. Eleanor Health’s current location at 96 Pompton Avenue meets both of these criteria, and Michardani says the office has been able to offer treatment to those as far away as Newark and Belleville.
Eleanor Health is also working with local hospitals and health care providers to increase access to their program. “For reasons of confidentiality, we cannot say exactly who we work with,” explains Michardani. “But, if someone’s primary care physician doesn’t necessarily have the skills to treat opioid addiction, that physician can refer the patient to us. “
Ultimately, treatment for opioid addiction is about human relationships: between an addict and his doctors, counselors, friends and family. To that end, “it is our staff who deserve real thanks,” says Borkowski. “It was only through their work that we were able to achieve the results that we are doing, and in particular the transition to remote treatment during the pandemic.” Even as the worst of the coronavirus pandemic wears off, the Eleanor Health team doesn’t expect less work; the opioid crisis has worsened since the 1990s, and the effects of pandemic lockdowns on addiction rates will be felt long after today. To that end, Eleanor Health hopes to carve out a niche in the communities of Verona and Essex County and continue to provide the care and support that first earned them CARF accreditation.