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Rutgers helpline expedites process for seeking treatment

July 11, 2016
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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With his state being hit particularly hard by the ongoing opioid epidemic—65,553 treatment admissions for substance abuse were recorded in 2014 alone—New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie sought solutions during his 2015 State of the State address.

In both the figurative and literal sense, Rutgers University has answered the call.

On July 1, 2015, the university’s Behavioral Health Care (UBHC) launched the Interim Managing Entity (IME), a statewide, 24/7 substance abuse helpline. Funded through the state Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the helpline provides a central point of entry for individuals to call and gain assistance in obtaining care.

“We use screening tools to quickly assess for immediate risk, then do a grief assessment to determine the approximate level of care needed, and then do a warm hand-off to the agency with the person on the phone,” says Manuel Guantez, PsyD, UBHC vice president of outpatient and addiction services.

After callers are assessed, staff members search the helpline’s live database of treatment facilities that shows real-time availability in detox, residential and outpatient treatment centers. The database is particularly useful in placing patients in residential care, which otherwise can be a challenging process, Guantez tells Addiction Professional.

“Residential care is the most difficult to place,” he says. “The difference here between somebody calling a particular agency and waiting for a bed to become available is that through our central point, we can monitor availability at all the beds from all the providers who let us know what they have available. Then we can go ahead and hopefully expedite the process, keeping the person engaged while they are waiting to get into care.

If a caller requires a residential facility and space is not immediately available, the helpline staff continues to serve as a care coordinator, acting as a liaison until the caller is placed. Callers frequently are surprised that helpline staffers are willing to call them back and ensure they are placed in appropriate care, Guantez says.

“With this population, the window for intervention is a narrow one,” Guantez tells Addiction Professional. “It’s easy to lose people. We want to make sure we instill a sense of hope that there will be a treatment slot available for them.”

Ensuring the availability of necessary funding is a key part of the referral process, Guantez says.

“We make sure there is a funding stream when we make the referral,” Guantez says. “We seek out funding and do income eligibility [checks] and match people up with available funding streams from the federal and state governments. Working the relationship with the providers and providers’ willingness to work with us in this process has been a real hallmark.”

Through its first year of operation, the helpline has taken about 55,000 calls, Guantez says. Of the calls received, 65% are from individuals needing detox services. In those instances, IME staff members follow up with detox centers three days after referring patients to ensure those individuals are continuing on with their care.

Also of note: 22% of calls received come from family members seeking help for a loved one.

“What we’ve been able to do being a helpline is talk to the family and coach the family to get the person on the phone so we can talk to them,” Guantez says. “That has been a benefit – to instill hope in the person and their family members.”