It’s official: Eleanor Health–an addiction outpatient treatment center with locations in six states, including a New Jersey site in Verona–has become the first addiction treatment program in New Jersey to be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation and Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
Eleanor Health’s Office-Based Opioid Treatment is a comprehensive outpatient opioid addiction treatment program, now certified by the rigorous standards set by CARF, an independent accreditor of health and human services facilities. “We try to take a whole-person approach,” says Chris Borkowski, New Jersey clinic operations senior manager. “That means meeting each patient where they are, and setting their goals based on what they want to achieve — if someone isn’t ready to fully detox, they don’t have to. We support patients’ medical and physical health through our nurses and doctors, their mental health through therapists and counselors, and provide ongoing support as they try and reintegrate socially.”
This multi-faceted approach can be invaluable to recovering addicts, who often struggle with intense mental and physical symptoms during the withdrawal and detoxification process. As challenging as opioid addiction treatment can be in ordinary times, it was even more so for Eleanor Health’s Verona office, which opened in May 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold.
“We definitely saw an upswing in patients during the pandemic, even though we only opened in May,” says Srishti Mirchandani, co-founder and general manager of Eleanor Health’s New Jersey office. Opioid-related deaths spiked nationally during the pandemic, as Americans dealt with isolation, loneliness, and depression in response to mass lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19. While New Jersey didn’t see a drastic increase in opioid overdoses in 2020 compared to 2019, 2021 is set to eclipse the previous two years’ death counts, according to data gathered in the first few months of the year.
As such, expanding access to opioid addiction treatment was essential during the fraught months of 2020 and early 2021. “We started up with telehealth during the pandemic,” says Mirchandani, “and that’s been instrumental in helping us reach more patients.” Telehealth use increased across the entire medical field in 2020, as healthcare providers were forced to go remote to treat patients. Mirchandani says telehealth has been particularly important in increasing access to opioid addiction treatment. “One of the main barriers to access for opioid treatment is the stigma surrounding addiction,”she says. “With telehealth, some of that stigma is removed, as the patient has more privacy and control over getting treatment.”
Eleanor Health’s team hopes that long-term, their program will be able to further lower barriers to access for treatment. Choosing Verona as the site for a new office was part of this process. “We look to underserved areas, that might not have opioid treatment facilities in easy access to people who need it,” says Mirchandani. “Then, we look to find a location with easy access to transportation in the local area.” Eleanor Health’s current location at 96 Pompton Avenue fit both of these criteria, and Mirchandani says that the office has been able to offer treatment to those as far away as in Newark and Belleville.
Eleanor Health also works with local hospitals and healthcare providers to increase access to their program. “For privacy reasons, we can’t say exactly who we work with,” says Mirchandani. “But, if someone’s primary care physician doesn’t necessarily have the skills to work with opioid addiction, that physician can refer the patient to us.”
At the end of the day, opioid addiction treatment is about human relationships: between an addict and their doctors, their counselors, their friends and family. To that end, “It’s our staff that deserves the real thanks,” says Borkowski. “It’s only through their work that we’ve been able to get the results that we do, and especially transitioning to all-remote treatment during the pandemic.” Even as the worst of the coronavirus pandemic recedes, Eleanor Health’s team doesn’t expect any less work to do; the opioid crisis has been building in severity since the 1990s, and the aftereffects of pandemic lockdowns on addiction rates will be felt long after today. To that end, Eleanor Health hopes to stake out a place in the Verona and Essex County communities, and continue to offer the care and support that first allowed it to earn CARF accreditation.
NOTE: The spelling of Srishti Mirchandani’s name has been corrected.