Back in the 1990s, Boston Medical Center (BMC) leaders felt overwhelmed. As they struggled with the cocaine and injection drug use epidemic, they were unequipped to deal with their patients’ complex needs.
Doctors Edward and Judith Bernstein set out looking for a solution. They teamed up with Boston’s Public Health Commission and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to submit a grant application to SAMHSA for improving the quality of care to a wide array of patients struggling with substance use disorders. That resulted in Project ASSERT (Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, Education and Referral to Treatment). It provides treatment and care to individuals who present in an emergency department with risky substance use behavior.
Project ASSERT is staffed by Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselors (LADCs)/Health Promotion Advocates (HPAs) who work with BMC clinicians to provide screening and intervention to at-risk emergency department patients. When someone arrives who may benefit from Project ASSERT services, staff perform “in-reach,” providing emotional support and advocacy. Staff and advocates learned early on that creating a non-judgmental, open door environment is key to getting patients engaged in care.
“The program took off and we were able to provide vital resources that the community needed,” says Dr. Ed Bernstein. That approach has paid off and Project ASSERT has been going strong for 25 years with Ludy Young, LADC1, MEd, as Supervisor, Dr. Edward Bernstein as Medical Director and six dedicated LADCs/ HPAs: Brent Stevenson, John Cromwell, Moses Williams, Isaac Rutledge, Rosa Auterio Williams and Jacqueline Shea. Project ASSERT has expanded beyond the emergency department. It now collaborates with local partners to train patients, family and friends in overdose recognition and response. In 2016 Project ASSERT became a key part of Faster Paths to Treatment, BMC’s Opioid Urgent Care Center. The LADCs conduct SUD assessments; determine ASAM triage level of care; conduct patient assessment; and refer to the Faster Paths addiction medication clinic, acute treatment services, clinical stabilization services, transitional support services and community support services.”
Only two things are needed to make a difference in the struggle against addiction: spotting an opportunity for reaching people, and acting on it. Which is exactly what Project ASSERT does.
Project ASSERT was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.