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Manchester to use ride-sharing service to transport Safe Station patients

By PAUL FEELY
New Hampshire Union Leader

February 06. 2018 11:30PM




MANCHESTER — Members of an aldermanic committee were told Tuesday the city’s strategy for responding to the opioid crisis continues to evolve, and will now use the services of a local ride service to fill a key transportation need moving forward.

Mayor Joyce Craig and Fire Chief Dan Goonan appeared before the Special Committee on Alcohol, Drugs and Youth Services Tuesday to update city officials on changes to the Safe Station program that were put in place last week.

Tuesday’s update follows last week’s announcement that two addiction-treatment organizations, the Manchester-based Farnum Center and Granite Pathways on the Seacoast, have formally assumed responsibility for people who show up at Safe Station after the collapse of Serenity Place, a nonprofit organization that provided low-cost treatment to addicts who showed up at city fire stations.

“The experience of Serenity Place showed us we need a better network of providers to stand ready to answer calls for help, no one entity can do this work alone. We need a streamlined program for our city, combined with a parallel effort to respond to the statewide needs of those suffering from substance use disorders,” said Craig in a statement. “Over half of the people seeking treatment in Manchester came to Safe Station from different communities around the state and region. Our plan works to respond to their needs without overwhelming the resources of Manchester’s providers.”

“Safe Station will continue to remain an entryway for people who don’t know where to go and haven’t sought help. It’s the first step,” said Goonan in a statement. “We want people who are familiar with treatment to return to their original provider, which will offer more advanced and case-specific care to respond to their immediate needs. It’s really a matter of connecting the right providers with the right client. We will continue to help all who ask for it, but our system will be more robust.”

The Manchester Fire Department will work with local organizations to continue operating as a 24-hour access point for those seeking help. Firefighters will then direct individuals to Granite Pathways, who will conduct a screening to determine what services are needed. They will then connect with area hospitals or treatment facilities to determine what level of care is needed and available.

Granite Pathways operates in the Serenity Place space at the old Manchester police station on Chestnut Street. On Tuesday, aldermen approved using $10,000 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to pay for the use of a Lyft concierge service to transport folks who come into Safe Station to Granite Pathways on Chestnut Street. Once there, the individual will be assessed by a licensed alcohol drug abuse counselor to determine what’s next for that person.

Goonan said the idea to partner with Lyft came from Chris Stawasz, regional director of American Medical Response (AMR) in Nashua, who said AMR has partnered nationally with Lyft to provide non-emergency medical transport.

“He (Stawasz) said AMR was using Lyft quite frequently, and suggested we try this,” said Goonan. “The travel is just local,” said Craig. “They get there in a couple of minutes, so it’s extremely cost effective.”

Goonan said his department tried out the Lyft service prior to the funds being approved, and paid for those test runs himself.

“I used my credit card a couple times,” said Goonan.

Alderman at Large Dan O’Neil questioned whether city CDBG funds could be used to pay for Lyft rides for non-city residents who come in to Safe Station.

“It’s a great idea. I’m just not sure it’s legal,” said O’Neil. “I support this, but be very cautious with that. I believe the requirement is they be a resident of Manchester.”

Following Tuesday’s meeting Lauren Smith, Mayor Craig’s policy director, said city planner Leon LeFreniere confirmed the CDBG funds could be used to pay for rides for non-city residents, terming such a use a “policy decision.”

While residents can still access treatment providers through Safe Station, families throughout the state are encouraged to call the Statewide Addiction Crisis Hotline (1-844-711-HELP) for care closer to home.

The 24-hour hotline will help connect any New Hampshire resident with access to inpatient or outpatient substance use treatment as soon as possible.

Statistics provided last week by Stawasz show the total combined suspected opioid-related overdoses for January in Nashua and Manchester show a downward trend, with 63 overdoses — including four fatalities — reported in the two cities combined.

In Manchester, there were 43 suspected opioid-related overdoses, including two fatalities, in January — the lowest number of suspected overdoses in one month in the Queen City since February 2017. The total number of Safe Station visits in Manchester since the program launched on May 4, 2016, was 3,090 as of Feb. 6.

Year to date through Jan. 31, suspected opioid-related overdose deaths in Manchester are down 66 percent compared to last year, said Stawasz.

In Nashua, there were 20 suspected opioid-related overdoses in January, two of them fatal.

pfeely@unionleader.com


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