New partnership to bolster St. Luke’s addiction, behavioral health services

St. Luke’s University Health Network of Bethlehem said Sellersville’s Penn Foundation has joined its network.

Penn Foundation is a nonprofit behavioral health provider with 27 behavioral health and substance abuse treatment programs serving more than 20,000 people annually.

Penn Foundation operates one of Pennsylvania’s first Opioid Use Disorder Centers of Excellence.

Penn Foundation’s decision to join St. Luke’s comes at a time when the demand for behavioral health services is rising.

Rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are expected to increase as a result of the immediate and long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of increased alcohol consumption and the ongoing challenges connected to the opioid crisis, substance use disorder treatment is also expected to rise.

“St. Luke’s recognizes the significant role that behavioral health services play in the overall health and wellbeing of our community,” said Richard Anderson, president & CEO of St. Luke’s. “The synergies created by this agreement will benefit patients throughout areas our organizations serve for generations to come.”

Wayne A. Mugrauer, president & CEO of Penn Foundation, commented on the partnership.

“Penn Foundation is fortunate to be well positioned to make this strategic decision for the future health of our community. Joining St. Luke’s University Health Network assures continued regional access to high-quality behavioral healthcare that is fully integrated with general medicine,” he said.

The St. Luke’s / Penn Foundation partnership, approved by the Board of Directors of Penn Foundation and the Board of Trustees of St. Luke’s, is subject to approval by various regulatory agencies.

When the agreement is approved by the regulatory agencies, which is expected to be in the first quarter of 2021, Penn Foundation and St. Luke’s will operate the largest nonprofit network of inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services in eastern Pennsylvania, according to a press release.

The goals is that the combined services will establish a complete continuum of care to treat patients with behavioral health and substance use disorders.

Last month, St. Luke’s Sacred Heart in Allentown announced it would be opening the region’s first Level IV medical detoxification unit early next year.

It will provide 24-hour medical supervision to people withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs.

Highmark offers opioid use disorder resources to customers

Employers offering Highmark insurance to their employees now have access to a suite of opioid use disorder educational tools through a national nonprofit.

Pittsburgh-based Highmark announced on Tuesday that a series of five-minute videos and resources meant to educate employers on the facts behind opioid use disorder are now available to its employer-based members.

The resources include information on the environmental and genetic risks, signs and symptoms and how to help individuals suffering from opioid use disorder.

Employers insured by Highmark can access the resources through Shatterproof, a national nonprofit focused on reversing the national opioid addiction crisis.

Highmark’s decision to offer the resources came from a community survey the insurer conducted last year in its core markets throughout Pennsylvania.

In the survey, 80 percent of respondents claimed opioid dependence is mostly or somewhat the fault of the person, and three-quarters of respondents said it was important to encourage friends and family to seek care for opioid dependence.

“Across the communities that we serve, we found that stigma associated with opioid use disorder is widespread,” said Deb Rice-Johnson, president of Highmark. “And yet, despite that stigma, we found that people want to help someone who is struggling with opioid dependence. Our collaboration with Shatterproof will help fight stigma so that opioid use disorder is viewed as a chronic disease, rather than a moral failing. It will also equip workplaces and our members with the knowledge and resources to start a conversation about opioids and help those in need.”

State adds $5 million to help physicians who treat opioid disorders

The state has allocated an additional $5 million in federal funding for a loan repayment program for health care practitioners who treat substance-use  and opioid-use disorders.

The increased funding, announced Dec. 20, is available to health care practitioners who work in areas with high opioid-use and a shortage of health-care options.

The program, designed to offset physicians education costs, was launched in May when Gov. Tom Wolf made the first $5 million allocation.

“This funding helps us ensure that those affected by the crisis living in both underserved areas, and areas hit particularly hard, have access to primary medical and behavioral health care services to treat their disorder,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health.

There are 30 highly impacted counties where opioid abuse is highest, according to the state.

Rural counties most affected by the opioid epidemic are Armstrong, Blair, Cambria, Carbon, Crawford, Fayette, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer, Mifflin, Monroe, Perry, Schuylkill, Venango, and Washington.  Urban counties most affected are Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lehigh, Luzerne, Northampton, Philadelphia, Westmoreland and York.

While applications are not limited to these counties, practitioners in these counties could receive additional points when being considered for the loan repayment program.

Practitioners are required to have already served two years treating substance use disorder and opioid addiction in order to apply.

Applications are available through Jan. 21.

More information is available on the Department of Health’s Substance Use Disorder Loan Repayment Program website.


AG Shapiro Announces $48 Billion Opioid Epidemic Deal with Five Companies

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced on Oct. 21 that he and Attorneys General Josh Stein (NC), Herbert Slatery (TN), and Ken Paxton (TX) secured a $48 billion agreement in principle with pharmaceutical companies Cardinal Health, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, Johnson & Johnson, and Teva for their roles in fueling the opioid epidemic, according to Shapiro’s office.

The framework agreed upon includes having the companies pay $22.25 billion in cash and $26 billion in medication-assisted treatment drug provision and distribution to each of the four states over 10 years. In addition, the three major distributors have also agreed to change their policies to prevent over-distribution in the future.

“The opioid, heroin and fentanyl epidemic claims the lives of 12 Pennsylvanians per day, and this public health and public safety crisis was engineered by opioid manufacturers and distributors,” said Shapiro. “Today’s agreement holds three of those distributors and two manufacturers accountable for their roles in perpetuating this epidemic.”

The agreement announced today is an agreement in principle. Each state and its local governments will receive a share of the $22.25 billion in cash to take action to abate the crisis, including providing addiction treatment, community paramedic services, and telehealth treatment, among other activities. The formula for distributing this cash is being finalized.

This agreement is the result of an investigation led by Shapiro with 40 other Attorneys General into six manufacturers and three distributors for their roles in the opioid epidemic.




St. Luke’s Miners receives $1M grant to fight opioid crisis

The Health Resources and Services Administration or HRSA, has awarded St. Luke’s Miners Campus a $1 million grant to help combat the opioid crisis.

St. Luke’s Miners in Coaldale was one of 80 grantees in the country and one of five organizations in the state of Pennsylvania to receive the award. These funds, part of the HRSA’s Rural Communities Opioid Response Program, will be disbursed over three years in an effort to provide needed opioid use disorder prevention programs and recovery services.

According to government data, the St. Luke’s Miners Campus patient population is at high risk for substance use disorder, and the prevalence of opioid use disorder, opioid overdoses and opioid overdose mortality are all higher than national rates.

“We are grateful for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s financial support of this important, collective effort to improve the health and well-being of our community.” said president of St. Luke’s Miners, Wendy Lazo.

St. Luke’s Miners Campus has established a steering committee, consisting of certified recovery specialists and rural partners such as rural health center staff, which will guide planning efforts.

“St. Luke’s Miners Memorial Hospital serves as a vital part of the community and helps to provide quality care to our residents,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, (D-Berks County). “This important funding will expand opioid prevention and treatment service and help residents move towards recovery.”