Recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs) is a personal and complex human experience. The difficult journey towards recovery often calls for support from a unique member of the primary care team: a recovery coach. Recovery coaches are non-clinical staff members who provide direct peer support to patients with SUDs.
An important aspect of a recovery coach’s role is helping to connect patients with clinical resources—things like psychiatric services, women’s health services, or clinicians who can provide medications to treat opioid or alcohol dependency. Additionally, they can connect patients to non-clinical resources that help address patient issues related to the social determinants of health—things like housing, nutrition, transportation and personal safety.
Unlike many clinical roles, recovery coaches are mobile and meet their participants wherever they need support. This has been difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. With social distancing restrictions in place, it’s been impossible to have that in-person, one-on-one connection and it has forced recovery teams to get creative. Clinics have turned to hosting video chat groups. And for newly identified participants who may need help and outreach—usually after an emergency department visit—recovery coaches have been following up over the phone rather than visiting bedside.
“It’s been tough not being able to meet with participants,” says Pablo Gonzalez, Recovery Coach at the Brigham Bridge Clinic. “We’re fighting a disease that requires contact but a pandemic that requires isolation.”
However, Richard Zombeck, Recovery Coach Supervisor at North Shore Medical Center & North Shore Physicians Group, explains that there have also been some positive outcomes from the pandemic.
“I think because people are stuck at home they’re showing up more. They’re not relying on rides or decide to skip a meeting because they don’t feel like leaving the house,” says Zombeck.
Gonzalez, however, remains cautious about relying too heavily on technology. Many of his participants live in shelters and don’t have access to reliable wi-fi or a phone. Luckily, meetings between recovery coaches and their participants in the community have recently been approved again. Both Gonzalez and Zombeck are glad that their teams can do what they do best—connect with people where they are. Though they will be wearing masks and following social distancing guidelines, recovery coaches will once again be able to offer their unique support face-to-face.
Gonzalez says, “I don’t think anything will replace that personal connection.”
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