A new unit or program within an addiction treatment center always brings a sense of anticipation, but staff members at Rosecrance Health Network in northern Illinois likely feel even more vested than usual in their organization’s latest project. A new inpatient unit for patients with a dual diagnosis will give priority to military veterans, and that factor was instrumental in the Rosecrance staff and governing boards’ covering nearly one-quarter of the $1 million in capital fundraising that was needed to launch the project.
“We have a most committed staff,” says Rosecrance spokesperson Judy Emerson.
The 14-bed unit at Rosecrance’s Harrison Campus in Rockford is scheduled to open this month. While it will serve a diversity of patients with co-occurring addiction and mental health disorders, veterans will receive priority for admission. The project therefore has earned the name the Veterans Inpatient Priority (VIP) project.
The organization actually considered designating the unit as a veterans-only treatment site, but decided against that for several reasons. First, given the shortage of available treatment programs that fully integrate addiction and mental health care at one location, “It didn’t make sense for beds to sit open,” says Dave Gomel, Rosecrance’s senior vice president and chief operating officer for substance abuse services.
Moreover, while a veterans-only program by definition would be completely tailored to veterans’ needs, there could be a downside to that given that the project seeks to help those returning veterans who are struggling to reintegrate into the community. “It can be helpful to be with people who are also in the community but are not veterans,” says Raymond Garcia, MD, medical director for adult services.
Garcia says the unit will offer a comprehensive range of services that will include treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), pharmacotherapy, family therapy, meditation and fitness. He says medications for both mental health and substance use disorders will be integrated into the program, and he expects buprenorphine might frequently be prescribed for patients with opioid use problems.
Gomel says the idea for a unit that would prioritize serving veterans grew out of brainstorming sessions among leadership about community needs. With northern Illinois having a proportionally high number of veterans, and with returning veterans having a high prevalence of substance use problems, it seemed logical to establish programming in this area.
Gomel gives specific credit to Rosecrance president and CEO Philip Eaton, whose perspective on the matter was, “If we don’t do this, who’s going to?”
The project is part of a campus expansion that will bring on 25 new staff members in the organization. The VIP unit will occupy renovated space that formerly housed administrative offices.
Gomel says Rosecrance is working closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the TRICARE program on this project, adding that staff members are receiving an important education in navigating the VA system. They will be able to pass along that knowledge to the veterans they will treat, informing them of any community reintegration resources available to them.