Mercy Health Foundation to match state’s $140K to fight opioid scourge


By Jordyn Grzelewski


Thanks to a private donor, Mahoning County will get double the amount of funding it was slated to receive this year to fight the opioid epidemic.

Mercy Health Foundation will match dollar-for-dollar the $140,000 the county Mental Health and Recovery Board will receive from the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services.

The state agency will disperse $26 million this year to combat opioid addiction as part of the federal 21st Century Cures Act that authorized $1 billion in grant funding nationwide.

Mahoning County had planned to use its grant funding to hire certified peer-recovery coaches. Mercy Health Foundation, which will administer the grant funding, will expand on that plan.

“This project provides an ideal opportunity for Mercy Health Foundation and the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board to expand our collaboration to address a critical community need,” said Crystal Jones, the foundation’s executive director of grants and contracts.

She noted Mercy Health hospitals treated 1,324 overdose patients between January 2016 and March 2017.

“This time period immediately after a nonfatal overdose presents a unique opportunity to link these overdose survivors with treatment and recovery support. So what we will do is fund additional peer-recovery coaches that respond to the emergency room,” Jones said.

The idea behind putting recovery coaches – recovered addicts who have gone through a certification process – in emergency rooms is to get addicts into treatment before they get released from the hospital, Jones said.

She said she expects to be able to hire six or seven recovery coaches. Those workers would be stationed at St. Elizabeth’s Boardman and Youngstown hospitals and at St. Elizabeth’s emergency room in Austintown. The foundation also will administer community grants that will fund peer-recovery coaches for treatment centers.

State and county officials praised the initiative.

“I’m delighted to hear that Mercy Health Foundation has voted to match Mahoning County’s grant award of $140,000,” said Tracy Plouck, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services. “This partnership, to my knowledge, is unique among all Ohio counties which received direct funding via [the 21st Century Cures Act].”

“The county commissioners are elated and appreciative of the donation,” said county Commissioner David Ditzler.

Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board, called the initiative “an outstanding example of a private-public partnership” and said the addition of peer-recovery supporters “can only make things better for the clients.”

The state will disperse a second round of funding next year. County agencies do not yet know how much they will receive. Mercy Health Foundation has committed to contributing next year, too, Jones said.

A recent survey conducted by the Columbus Dispatch found 4,149 Ohioans died of drug overdoses in 2016, a 36 percent increase from 2015. In Mahoning County, 92 people died from drug overdoses last year, according to the Dispatch’s analysis.

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