CHI CEO Kevin Lofton on Battling the Opioid Crisis

Kevin Lofton, CEO, CHI

National news from CHI:  America’s opioid epidemic is a public-health emergency. And the crisis seems to keep getting worse – the most recent statistics show that more than 42,000 Americans died in 2016.

A hugely complicated problem like opioid abuse requires a comprehensive solution – much like the plan developed a couple of years ago by a Catholic Health Initiatives hospital in Little Falls, Minn., a town of about 8,000 people and a county of about 30,000 in the central part of the state.

In 2014, during the height of this national crisis, leaders at CHI St. Gabriel’s Health discovered that the No. 1 reason people were coming to the emergency department was to seek narcotics. The response: A community wide collaboration that included the local school district, social-services agencies, law enforcement and the Morrison County Prescription Drug Task Force.

This determined partnership launched a call to action that included education, community awareness and a different approach to pain management.

Within one year, requests for drugs had dropped off the Top 20 list of emergency department admissions.

The St. Gabriel’s controlled-substance care team – comprised of a nurse navigator, a social worker, a pharmacist and a mental health counselor – worked closely with approximately 1,500 patients, many at high risk of addiction.

In the first two years, about 700 of these patients had their prescriptions reduced – and 329 were completely off opioids, stimulants and benzodiazepines.

This incredible work is no longer limited to St. Gabriel’s or Morrison County. In fact, last July, that Minnesota state legislature allocated $1 million to a pilot program designed to replicate this success in a number of other communities in the state.

Thankfully, this goes hand-in-hand with the continuing work being done across the nation and at CHI, where we are planning a systemwide summit on opioids that will focus on risk reduction, treatment access and medication-assisted treatment programs.

Last year, the American Hospital Association recognized this work through the prestigious NOVA Award, granted annually to the “bright stars of the health care field.” And earlier this month, the Catholic Health Association honored St. Gabriel’s with its annual Achievement Citation, which recognizes an outstanding program or service that exemplifies the ministry’s commitment to carry on Jesus’ mission of compassion and healing.

On hand to accept the award at the CHA’s annual assembly were two leaders from St. Gabriel’s who really made this happen: Lee Boyles, president; and Kathleen Lange, foundation director and head of the Morrison County Prescription Drug Task Force.

Boyles spoke eloquently – and emotionally — as he accepted the award: “Our program,” he said, “aligns directly with our mission and the legacy of our sisters. We continue to work hard to take our mission outside the four walls of our hospital and clinics and into the community.”

Lee added: “We have had unbelievable collaboration within our community – I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

I know that many other health care facilities – and communities — can learn from CHI St. Gabriel’s that no problem is insurmountable if we work together to find a solution.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to watch the CHA video that chronicles this remarkable story.