Ashley Addiction Treatment Innovates to Impact More Lives
For more than 30 years, Ashley Addiction Treatment (www.ashleytreatment.org) has impacted thousands of lives by showing patients a path to recovery from addiction. Through innovative treatments, community partnerships, specialized programs and outreach efforts, Ashley is expanding to reach even more people and help heal more minds, bodies and spirits.
“We have five outreach representatives who develop relationships with physicians, therapists, psychologists and outpatient treatment programs who in turn reach out to us,” says Lisa Dehorty, Director of Business Development at Ashley. If the referred patient is not a good fit for Ashley’s approach, then “our team uses connections nationwide to find a right fit for them. We want to be seen as a resource,” Dehorty adds. Collaboration with the referring clinician is critical to understand what the patient’s history is, what has worked and what has not, says Alex Denstman, Director of Clinical Outreach. “Twenty-eight days here may seem like a long time, but the more collateral information we can get upfront, the more effective our care is,” Denstman says.
“We have a team of professionals with different specialties and expertise and the referring professional is part of that team. We want them to stay engaged,” Denstman says.
Ashley is also a resource for Employee Assistance Programs – work-based programs that offer confidential assessments and referrals to employees who have personal problems. Ashley works with many airlines and railroads, as well as the federal government, medical community and lawyers. Sometimes the employee contacts the human resources department asking for help, but when it’s a safety issue or involves licensure, sometimes the employer approaches the employee. “When their career is on the line, and there are life-changing consequences if they continue to use (alcohol and/or drugs), sometimes this can help them see the light and they are willing to change,” says Dehorty.
The opening of two intensive outpatient (IOP) centers – one in Harford County and one in Cecil County – has also allowed Ashley to impact more lives. In 2015, it partnered with University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health in Bel Air, and in January, the grand opening was held for the IOP program at Union Hospital in Elkton. “The IOPs allow us to serve people from different socio-economic demographics and extend our treatment continuum to patients when they return to their communities,” says Denstman.
“We have also increased our relationships with insurance plans; we are in network with Blue Cross, Aetna, Beacon Health Systems and United Healthcare/Optum,” says Dehorty. She adds that since the inception of the Affordable Care Act, the number of patients at Ashley with insurance is approximately 85 to 90 percent; before the ACA, approximately 30 percent of patients were uninsured.
“All of this allows us to impact more people – adding more insurance contracts, opening of IOPs, adding more service lines to reach different treatment needs and increasing outreach events,” says Denstman, who conducts presentations in workplaces to help, for example, managers see the warning signs of addiction and what resources are available. “Employers are now understanding that there is no shame in admitting that addiction impacts their workplace. The images we see – a homeless man drinking booze out of a brown paper bag or the heroin addict with needles in his arm – are not entirely accurate. I was here 14 years ago as a patient. Our patients are your co-workers, the people you see at church or at the grocery store.”
Dehorty says that one of the biggest fears patients have is how treatment will impact their work. “We explain to them that they are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act,” says Dehorty, who adds that 65 percent of Ashley patients are employed and another 10 percent are retired.
Despite the expansion of insurance coverage, specialized inpatient care can still be cost-prohibitive for some, so a scholarship fund was established. “We have fundraising galas in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore where we honor an Ashley graduate who is doing work in the community,” says Martha Meehan-Cohen, Director of Development and Alumni Services. “This allows us to bring patients here, including active and retired military, who would never have the opportunity to experience this type of healing. We award $4 million a year in scholarships … that is a lot of treatment.”
A large portion of the donor base is former Ashley patients who want to give back. February’s D.C. gala included former U.S. House Rep. Patrick Kennedy as the keynote speaker. Kennedy previously sought treatment at Ashley for alcoholism and drug abuse and is an outspoken advocate on how it helped in his recovery.
Ashley also launched a capital campaign to build a new women’s center to transform an existing space in a private, comfortable and safe space exclusively for women.
One of the key elements that differentiates Ashley from other treatment centers is its integrated approach – tapping into the resources available and the large staff from various disciplines, beginning at the admissions department. “Addiction is such a complex illness and selecting treatment is a difficult decision for patients and their family, and what differentiates us from some of our competitors is the front-end experience. We want that first touch to be a special experience,” says Denstman.
When a patient first comes to Ashley, a thorough medical and counseling assessment is administered. “We look at all aspects of an individual’s life – alcohol and drug use history, marital status, education, family status, upbringing, and what factors in childhood may have contributed to where they are today. We can then apply that to the treatment plan,” says Bernadette Solounias, M.D., Senior Vice President of Treatment Services and Medical Director.
Dr. Solounias says about 60 percent of patients undergo detox. “They require a lot of attention and multiple assessments a day by nurses and medical staff. Many patients are also dealing with other medical issues that require medication – hypertension, diabetes, etc. –so the nursing staff takes care of that, too. All three classes – alcohol, opiates (heroin, prescriptions) and sedatives (Valium, Klonopin) – need monitored detoxification and patients experience discomfort. We use medication on an as needed basis to keep them comfortable,” says Dr. Solounias.
After detox, some of the treatment methods used include motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral therapy by psychologists in group therapy, and therapists trained in Terry Gorski’s model for relapse prevention.
Denstman says that during the recovery process, a key element for success is family involvement. “If I had to say what the biggest indicator of success is I’d say the level of family engagement. Families get sick together and then they recover together. We stress to family members how important their participation is.” Three-day family wellness programs include educational components and workshops and the ability to spend time with other families going through recovery. “Addiction is the most isolating disease there is, and families feel just as isolated as patients,” Denstman says.
During the family program, the science of addiction is explored. “It helps them understand addiction and reduces stigma,” says Dr. Solounias. “It’s not a personal weakness or moral failure; addiction is a disease that affects the neuro-transmitters in the brain.”
Ashley Addiction Treatment was founded in 1983 by Father Joseph C. Martin, S.S. and his friend and business partner, Mae Abraham, whose maiden name was Ashley. The two first met at one of Father Martin’s award-winning “Chalk Talks” at Johns Hopkins University in 1964. Father Martin was widely regarded as a pioneer in his field for his direct and compassionate approach and his identifying addiction as a disease instead of a choice, and since both he and Abraham were recovering alcoholics, they were inspired to help other addicts. Although it was founded by Catholic clergy, Ashley is not affiliated with a religious organization and is open to everyone.
“Since we’ve been around for 34 years, referring professionals will ask, ‘What is new at Ashley? How are you treating patients differently and more effectively?’ We benefit from being an established treatment center, and we also are seen as an innovator. Addiction is a moving target … we don’t treat addiction the same way we did last year or five years ago,” says Denstman. Dehorty agrees. “We have to be innovative. Alcohol is still the primary drug of choice for our patients – about 55 percent of our patients – while 35 percent are addicted to opiates. We saw that those addicted to opiates were having difficulty with detox, so we extended the detox protocol from five-to-seven days to up to 10 days,” she says.
Greg Hobelmann, M.D., who works in Ashley’s Pain Recovery Program, has seen firsthand the rise in opiate addiction. “Patients have been prescribed opiates in high doses and what we’ve found is that they do not treat chronic pain. There are three measures of pain management – quality of life, reduced pain and improved function – and opiates do not help in any of these areas,” says Dr. Hobelmann.
Dr. Hobelmann says that one of the critical components for recovery in an inpatient setting is cognitive behavioral therapy. For pain management, he relies on many alternative therapies for his patients – acupuncture, massage, physical therapy and aqua-therapy, for example. “We have patients who have been in pain for years, and they feel better within a couple of weeks here,” he says.
Another area where Ashley has seen an increase in admissions is with young adults. “The young adult population here has tripled in the past 10 years. We developed an exclusive young adult program that is completely separate – a primary program for those who have not experienced recovery before, a relapse program and a pain recovery program. Our young adult extended care program launched in July 2016 with eight beds dedicated to 18-25 year old males that allows them to stay here an additional 60 days after the initial 28 days; we’ve seen great success with this program,” says Dehorty.
“The evidence all states that specialized programs work best. We can segment based on age, gender, or based on treatment and use history. We don’t ask patients to adjust to fit our program; we have to adjust our program to fit our patients,” says Denstman.
Since its inception more than 30 years ago, Ashley has been dedicated to healing not only a patient’s body, but also the mind, soul and spirit.
“We focus on healing with dignity – we don’t break patients down and then build them back up. They are already broken down,” says Father Mark Hushen, president of Ashley. “We are a treatment center with a soul. Whether you are the president of the organization, physician or a driver here, people are willing to help those who are entrusted in our care. You have to be a special type of person to work long-term in health care. You are working with people who are very sick and not at their best. They can oftentimes be adversarial, resistant and say harsh things. You cannot take it personally and must recognize that this is a consequence of their illness. Our brand promise is everything for recovery because recovery is everything.”
Part of this holistic approach is introducing patients to physical fitness, yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation, art therapy and other tools to aid in recovery. “We want to introduce patients to all of these things so that they can determine what works for them and employ that when they leave here,” says Dehorty.
Ashley’s idyllic 147-acre campus on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay also plays a role in recovery. “Patients come here and they are so beaten down, and this natural environment of care builds them back up. It’s part of the recovery process,” says Dehorty. I95