Premier Health utilizing substance use navigators

Ohio Department of Health grant funding program to help reach patients living with substance use disorders.

Premier Health has started a substance use navigator program to reach patients in Premier’s main emergency rooms who may be dealing with a substance use disorder get connected with resources right away.

Substance use navigators work with patients in the emergency department to complete chemical dependency assessments. The navigators then provide patients with links to care, including placement in treatment facilities and other wrap-around services. Premier Health is first in the region to implement a substance use navigator program, the health system said.

“The substance use navigators are actually part of a larger plan to treat substance use disorders in the emergency room,” said Dr. Kimberly Wascak, who is Premier Health’s physician lead for the grant funding this program.



In mid-2021, Premier Health, in partnership with ProMedica, received a grant from the Ohio Department of Health to treat emergency department patients struggling with substance use and connect them with resources for recovery.

“We looked across the country at the best models of who was having the best results helping their patients, and we were able to model our program of the substance use navigators after those programs,” Wascak said.

CA Bridge, or California Bridge, was an early leader of the substance use navigator program and has been providing guidance to Premier Health’s program, Wascak said.

“In California, patients that are looking to begin recovery come into the emergency department and specifically ask for a SUN (substance use navigator),” Wascak said. “We look forward to the day when patients who need help with substance use come into our emergency centers and request assistance from a SUN.”

When fully staffed, Premier Health will have eight substance use navigators. Currently, six substance use navigators are in place and cover Miami Valley Hospital North, Miami Valley Hospital, Atrium Medical Center, and Upper Valley Medical Center.

“Adding the substance use navigators has been a huge benefit for our patients in getting them into ongoing care,” Wascak said. “We’ve also started giving out Narcan kits in the emergency room to patients and/or their families that are with them.”

Assistance with barriers to treatment, and even just being offered compassion and hope, is something Jill Browder, a Premier Health substance use navigator, said she could have used when she was struggling with her own substance use disorder.

“I’m so glad I can offer these things to patients so that they have the opportunity to take back their lives and begin their path in recovery,” Browder said. “Having the resources available, knowing where they’re at, it’s not as easy as it seems to place somebody in a treatment facility.”

Barriers to treatment can include figuring out which facilities or providers accept a patient’s insurance, or even figuring out transportation to appointments. Substance use navigators can also provide education about Narcan, Browder said.

Premier Health is looking to hire additional substance use navigators for Upper Valley Medical Center and Atrium Medical Center. Substance use navigators must have experience with substance use disorder, nursing, or social work.

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