ROCKY MOUNT — UNC Health Nash launched a program in May to support patients struggling with substance use disorders in its emergency department, thanks to grant funding secured by the UNC Health Nash Foundation.

The program provides structured, scheduled services designed to support the recovery journey of patients with substance use disorders by connecting them with peer support specialists. The program is built on an evidence-based mental health model of care that provides community-based recovery services.

Peer support specialists are state-certified professionals with lived experience in mental illness and/or substance use disorders who serve as patient advocates while navigating the health care system. Specialists work alongside the patient’s care team, helping reduce barriers to treatment and challenges patients may face when seeking care. Through providing patient access to community resources, peer support specialists promote recovery through self-determination, self-advocacy, engagement in self-care/wellness and enhancing community living skills.

“Community members with substance use disorders are often criticized and overlooked,” said Holly Dennis, a licensed clinical social worker, UNC Nash Emergency Department behavioral health clinical supervisor and supervisor of the peer support program. “Seeking recovery can be overwhelming and even embarrassing at times. People come to the emergency department usually in times of crisis or when they do not know where to start. Having a peer support specialist housed in the emergency department shows that UNC Nash has a commitment to our community and that we support all individuals in search of recovery.”

Clinton Royal Jr.

The program’s first peer support specialist is Clinton Royal Jr., who started his new role in the UNC Nash Emergency Department when the program launched in May. Prior to becoming a peer support specialist, Royal served as a patient safety attendant for more than a year, working closely with behavioral health patients.

During Royal’s first few months in his new role, he has consulted with nearly 200 patients.

Dennis noted that in just the first month of the program, 30-day revisits to the hospital dropped by 10%, demonstrating success in connecting patients to community resources that aid in long-term recovery.  In addition, 60% of the people Royal helped place in long-term programs are still in their care settings receiving treatment, which Dennis noted is often a challenge.

“To a patient suffering with a substance use disorder, it can be a powerful moment to have a health care team member walk in and be able to relate to exactly what that patient is seeing, feeling and thinking,” said Dennis. “Clinton is kind, compassionate and a friendly face for these patients, and is able to advocate for them in an environment that can be intimidating and overwhelming. He brings a different perspective and skillset to our team, helping us improve the effectiveness of our care. Clinton also ensures follow-up care is accessible for patients after discharge.”

Kathleen Fleming, executive director of the UNC Health Nash Foundation, said she’s thankful to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for the grant funding to get this program started. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services distributes the federal grant money.

“Thanks to this funding, we are able to get this program off the ground and show the impact it makes for our community,” said Fleming. “As we demonstrate the significant impact it makes on our community’s substance use disorder population, we hope to secure additional funding through grants and private donors to continue and hopefully grow the program.”

Anyone interested in donating to the UNC Nash Foundation can visit or contact Kathleen Fleming at [email protected] or 252-962-8583. [source]