The Kraft Center launches care for opioid use disorder to Boston’s most vulnerable

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A new community outreach initiative spearheaded by The Kraft Center for Community Health at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) seeks to better engage with individuals struggling with addiction and complex health conditions who are not well connected to health care services. The Kraft Center for Community Health was established in 2012 by a generous gift from Robert K. Kraft and The Kraft Family Foundation to expand access to high quality, cost effective health care for disadvantaged populations. CareZone, a mobile health van, is being funded by The Kraft Center for Community Health and brings together collaborators from GE Foundation, Ford Motor Company, Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) and the Boston Public Health Commission’s AHOPE program.

This initiative, a first of its kind in New England, will focus on providing care and harm reduction services in areas known to have high rates of fatal and non-fatal opioid overdoses in the Greater Boston area. The goal of the CareZone program is to increase access to addiction and health care services, engaging individuals in recovery and connecting them with long-term, community-based care.

“Our country is experiencing an urgent crisis that needs creative and innovative approaches. My family and I want to be part of the solution and provide the hope of recovery to people who may feel unnoticed by our society and who are in need of care. That’s what this is about – meeting people where they are, offering help, and engaging them in care.”  says Robert K. Kraft, chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group. Kraft and his son, Josh Kraft, Nicholas President and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston have long advocated for increasing access to care and improving the health inequality gap of disadvantage populations.

The national opioid epidemic has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives with death tolls increasing 400 percent since 2000. In Boston alone, overdose deaths have almost tripled in the last five years. While life-saving treatments for opioid use disorder are available, only five percent of people living with substance use disorders have access to the treatment they need.

“An average of six people per day are dying in Massachusetts from an opioid overdose. The fundamental cause of these deaths is the disease of addiction. Effective, lifesaving treatments are available now but there is substantial lack of access to treatment, particularly among our most vulnerable populations. There is also reluctance of many people to use traditional clinics or hospitals due to fear of stigma. That is the space we hope to fill with the CareZone program,” says Elsie Taveras, MD, MPH, executive director of The Kraft Center. “We see tremendous value in being in the community, building engagement and trust, and partnering with clinical and public health practitioners to not give up on people, to offer a path to recovery.”

Launching January 9, 2018, the CareZone, staffed by BHCHP’s medical group and AHOPE’s harm reduction team, will provide on-demand, preventative care, such as screenings for tuberculosis, cancer and sexually transmitted infections, immunizations, and chronic disease management including HIV. It will also offer low-threshold treatment for substance use disorders and will offer an opportunity for individuals, many of whom are homeless, to receive overdose prevention and risk reduction counseling. Jessie Gaeta, MD, chief medical officer of BHCHP, will serve as medical director for CareZone.

As part of these efforts, The Kraft Center enlisted the assistance and advice of key community leaders, first responders and health care providers to help develop, plan and implement a cutting-edge program that would address some of the unmet health care, mental health and addiction service needs of individuals in Boston with substance use disorder. Through this work, CareZone aims to connect patients to a permanent medical home and facilitate access to critically important, consistent care.

“GE Foundation is committed to bringing innovative solutions to community health and leading on emerging issues such as the opioid crisis,” said Ann R. Klee, President, GE Foundation. “We’re proud to work with city and state partners to deliver comprehensive primary care, skilled in handling substance use disorders, directly to patients and communities that need it most.”

CareZone will broaden understanding on how best to ‘meet people where they are’ and will be a valuable resource for bringing stability to clients’ lives and empower them to re-prioritize their health and wellbeing. Using data collected during the program’s first nine months, CareZone will investigate ways to scale up and improve care in the Boston area, across Massachusetts and nationally, becoming a model for innovative community outreach and opioid treatment as we all seek solutions to one of the nation’s most pressing health crises.

For more information about the CareZone program, visit http://www.kraftcommunityhealth.org/programs/mobile-opioid-addiction-program/