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Lee Health Tackling Opioid Addiction with New Pilot Program

Lee Health Tackling Opioid Addiction with New Pilot Program

by Cathy Murtagh Schaffer, PA-C, Lee Physician Group

Patients struggling with addiction and related health issues have a new option for treatment through an innovative program at Lee Health.

Using a $50,000 grant from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, Lee Health will continue to pilot a program at HealthPark Medical Center to provide substance abuse treatment for patients hospitalized with drug-related endocarditis. The initiative includes introducing Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) for patients with endocarditis, a potentially deadly heart infection.

Endocarditis is an infection of the heart chambers and valves.  It generally occurs when bacteria, fungi, or other germs spread through a patient’s bloodstream and attach to damaged areas in their heart. As these clusters of infection grow, they can damage heart valves or break loose and cause a stroke or other organ damage. Intravenous drug users are particularly susceptible to this condition because many don’t have access to clean needles, exposing potentially harmful bacteria into the bloodstream. Many of these patients aren’t aware or don’t seek medical care until they’re brought to the emergency department.

The opioid crisis has created a marked increase in endocarditis patients.

In the last two years, more than 12,000 inpatients were discharged from Lee Health hospitals with a substance abuse diagnosis other than alcohol or tobacco. Of these, nearly 340 patients were admitted with endocarditis for more than 6,000 total inpatient days and a 29.1 percent readmission rate. This is nearly double the health system’s average readmission rate for all inpatients.

Treatment for endocarditis often requires a multi-week hospitalization where patients are given a steady stream of intravenous antibiotics to clear the infection. From there, surgeons at Lee Health’s Shipley Cardiothoracic Center will replace damaged heart valves.

MAT is the only viable treatment for opioid-addicted patients, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Research shows the treatment reduces relapses, curtails risky behaviors that lead to other health conditions, including HIV, and helps eliminate criminal behavior often associated with addiction.

Last year, Lee Health launched a pilot program through the Shipley Center to help patients with addiction problems during their hospital stay.

The program is comprised of a pharmacist, licensed clinical social worker, attending physician and a grant-funded certified recovery peer specialist that administer and guide treatment. Certified recovery peer specialists are people who have been in recovery for at least two years who have obtained state certification to help guide patients with opioid use disorder or other addictions through therapy.

The grant also enables Lee Health to provide patients with a week’s worth of medication-assisted therapy upon discharge and transportation as needed to the nearest outpatient treatment center to continue their treatment.

Through the support of partners like the Southwest Community Foundation, Lee Heath will continue to lead our community’s response to the opioid crisis.

This summer, Florida Weekly has graciously allowed us, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to spotlight the nonprofit organizations funded through the Foundation’s 2019 competitive grant cycle.  Funds made available for these grants are graciously given by donors through Field of Interest Funds. Many of these donors are deceased and have left instructions to the Foundation on the causes they care about and then rely on the Foundation team to address the communities’ greatest needs within the established criteria by the donor.  We have asked these grantees to share their stories. We are pleased to partner with these change-makers.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $6.8 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of more than $126 million, it has provided $78.2 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. The Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are now located in the historic ACL Train Depot at Collaboratory in downtown Fort Myers, with a satellite office located in LaBelle (Hendry County). For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit




Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

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