ECMC reacts to frustrations over addiction treatment

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- The Emergency Department at ECMC is seeing a record number of overdose cases and people seeking addiction treatment.

They are working to adjust to higher demand. Family members of people struggling with addiction, however, reached out to News 4 frustrated with how the hospital is treating patients.

Michael Brady was three days shy of his 26th birthday when he died of an overdose in March. His mother told News 4 he tried to get into treatment four different times. She fought to get him into drug court and eventually a 28 day program.

He died less than a week after he left detox.

His mother, Deborah Palmer, said it is too difficult to get treatment in Western New York. She said it starts with the local hospitals, which treated her son after he overdosed twice on the same January day this year.

“The ambulance took him to ECMC and he was released later that day,” she said. “It should be mandatory that they’re into treatment no question about it. They’re leaving loved ones behind my son left a son behind, us.”

She sat down with another mother, Kathryn Gilmore, to share her story.

Gilmore’s daughter Arielle also struggled with addiction.

“She probably was in every outpatient treatment facility there was over the last four years and sometimes she did well and sometimes she didn’t,” said Gilmore.

She had to call 911 one day when her daughter overdosed in her house.

“We were able to revive her before they got there but we still had to take her down to ECMC,” said Gilmore.

She told News 4 the hospital gave her daughter a cab ride home that day.

Arielle eventually did get into ECMC’s 28 day detox program but died a few days after she was released, waiting to get into a halfway house.

“The facility cannot take them yet because they’re overcrowded, they don’t have room,” said Gilmore. “What do they do in the meantime? Well in my case you come home and you relapse and die so that’s the gap that I personally experienced.”

ECMC’s Chief of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Michael Manka, told News 4 doctors are just as frustrated as parents.

“We are looking to expand options for follow up within 24 or 48 hours on this campus, we don’t have that established yet,” said Manka. “We are also looking for opportunities to try to treat patients who are going through withdrawal with medications that will make their withdrawal even less severe than what we’re currently doing so hopefully they don’t go out and just reuse again.”

He said they sometimes see 20 patients in a day seeking addiction help.

“The number of patients we see now coming in after unintentional overdoses has skyrocketed,” said Manka.

More than 220 people have been seen in the Emergency Department for substance abuse or detox this month. In May 2017, 323 patients were treated.

During all of 2016, the ED saw 3,908 patients for detox or substance abuse.

There are only 18 detox beds.

“We feel frustrated as healthcare providers as well,” said Manka. “We would like to be able to admit every one of the patients coming in looking for help with quitting their addiction but the reality is there’s just so many patients out there in the community, we can’t admit every patient that comes in. We try our best but we feel the frustration of families.”

He said each patients who comes into the ED is evaluated. If they are in stable condition, they’re monitored for four hours and then offered counseling from a substance abuse counselor. The patient is then either admitted to ECMC’s inpatient program or set up with an appointment at an outpatient program within 24 to 48 hours. He said it can be longer if there is a holiday weekend.

“We really know they sometimes have a near death experience and we really want to get them the help they need but, again, if the patient was awake and they really weren’t trying to hurt themselves and they are saying they want to leave, it’s difficult to force them to stay against their will,” said Manka.

He said they are currently researching the how long a patient needs to be observed after they receive narcan. Right now, they are using four hours as a baseline but they will reassess once the study is completed.

ECMC is getting ready for a $45 million expansion of the emergency department, they hope will allow them to treat more patients.

The hospital is a Level 1 trauma center.

Manka told News 4 they help patients who walk-in seeking help immediately but sometimes the wait can be longer if there is a high patient volume.

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