By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — Patients struggling with opioid addiction were entering the emergency room or requiring hospitalization at a growing rate, which concerned healthcare providers at MercyOne Clinton Medical Center.
Its mission to “serve with fidelity to the Gospel as a compassionate, healing ministry of Jesus Christ to transform the health of our communities,” propelled MercyOne to take action. The healthcare provider collaborated with the greater community to open a Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Clinic in Clinton’s north end 15 months ago. Since then, clinic provider Dr. Jill Johnson and nurse coordinator Laura Norris have treated and cared for 60 adults addicted to opioids, such as heroin or prescription painkillers.
Today they have an active list of 25 patients from different backgrounds and ages (mid-20s to mid-60s), who come to the clinic for help and for hope to deal with an addiction to opioids. The medical treatment patients receive here is essential, the compassion, equally so. “We care; they know we care,” says Norris, a member of St. Joseph Parish in DeWitt.
On Jan. 19, Bishop Thomas Zinkula traveled to the small brick building that houses the clinic on Clinton’s north end. “We ask for God’s blessings on all who have been, are, and will be treated here; may they be strengthened and restored to the freedom of God’s children,” the bishop prayed, surrounded by a small group of MercyOne Clinton representatives.
“We ask God’s blessings, as well, on the counselors and clinicians who will care for them; may they be an encouragement and support to all who come through these doors. And finally, we ask the divine blessing on MercyOne Clinton Medical Center’s Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Clinic, and on all who made this clinic possible; may this place always be a source of hope for those suffering from addictions.”
MercyOne Clinton opened the MAT Clinic in October 2019, when Clinton County had the fifth-highest hospitalization rate for opioids in Iowa and the 18th-highest rate for treatment admissions. Residents previously had to travel out of town to obtain this type of treatment.
The MAT Clinic is a partnership between MercyOne, the City of Clinton, the Area Substance Abuse Council, Bridgeview Community Mental Health Center and the Clinton Substance Abuse Council. The clinic received funding through the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Program Grant (COAP) that the City of Clinton received in 2018. The Davenport Diocese also contributed to the MAT Clinic.
Prior to the clinic’s opening, Bishop Zinkula and Kent Ferris, diocesan director of Social Action and Catholic Charities, attended a meeting at MercyOne Clinton that included “discussion about the serious problem of opioid addiction and the strong desire to do something about it in the Clinton community,” the bishop said.
“When we returned home, Kent proposed that we help out with funding. I was surprised at the amount of money he recommended ($10,000), because our Works of Charity fund isn’t all that large. The group that makes decisions on the distribution of the funds talked it over and decided it was a very worthy and important endeavor. We wanted to give enough money so that the diocese could be a change agent and hopefully inspire others to contribute.”
During the blessing ceremony, MercyOne Clinton representatives thanked Bishop Zinkula for the donation and his presence. “We appreciate the diocese’s support,” said Malissa Sprenger, vice president of mission integration, MercyOne Eastern Iowa Region. “Our patients are grateful that we are here,” Dr. Johnson said.
She and Norris described the challenges affecting their patients, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and stressed that the addiction is a medical condition and not lack of personal initiative. Norris told the bishop about a woman whose VA survivor benefits would have required travel to Des Moines for treatment, an impossibility for her. The diocesan grant allowed her to receive treatment at MercyOne Clinton’s MAT clinic. “That’s terrific,” the bishop responded.
The MAT Clinic accepts patients 18 years or older who meet criteria for opioid use disorder, as assessed by the Area Substance Abuse Council (ASAC). Medication assisted treatment allows patients “to establish a routine and maintain a productive life. This is especially helpful for people living in rural areas in Iowa,” the Iowa Department of Public Health states in its report “Iowa’s Opioid Crisis: An Update January 2019.” The combination of medication and therapy can also help sustain recovery.
“For patients who are dependent on opioids, the medication component of treatment can offer some assistance with withdrawal symptoms and prevent severe cravings,” Dr. Johnson said. “Adding evidence-based behavioral therapies then provides a whole-person approach to treating substance use disorders.” A counselor and a peer support provide the behavioral component of treatment.
“When the grant was awarded, we were projected to serve 20 people in two years. We have served more than double that in a little over 12 months,” Norris said. “The local need for treatment resources is great.”
In October, the City of Clinton received a $600,000, three-year grant that continues the current MAT Clinic services. The grant also allows for an increase in available MAT providers for additional hours and/or days, an increase in peer support services, increased efforts to link patients diagnosed with hepatitis C to treatment resources, and some limited funding to start to address stimulant use disorders in the service area. “We’ll be able to help more people,” Amy Berentes, executive vice president/COO, MercyOne Clinton, told Bishop Zinkula.
“We are doing great work helping so many people with opioid use disorder find treatment that works best for them,” Norris said. “The team has seen several successes for our patients, including new employment, reunification with family and friends, return of driving privileges and treatment of chronic pain that led to opioid use disorder.”
“I was impressed by the professionalism, dedication and commitment of the staff at the clinic,” Bishop Zinkula said afterwards. “Just as important, I was touched by their joyful, caring and hopeful dispositions. Their work at the clinic, though incredibly challenging, truly is a ministry and a calling.”
Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Clinic
MercyOne Clinton Medical Center operates its Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) Clinic on Wednesdays from 1-5 p.m. at 221 Main Ave., Clinton, by appointment only.
For more information, call Laura Norris at (563) 244-7525. If you or someone you care about is struggling from an addiction to opioids, such as heroin or prescription painkillers, please schedule an appointment by calling (563)-243-2124.