Walla Walla nonprofit Blue Mountain Heart to Heart will become the new provider of medical and behavioral health services to inmates at the Walla Walla County Jail in a development authorized this week.
During their regular Monday meeting Walla Walla County commissioners instructed Walla Walla County Corrections Department Director Norrie Gregoire to offer enhanced services to county jail inmates who are recovering addicts.
Gregoire will negotiate a contract with Blue Mountain Heart to Heart to provide medical and case management services to inmates discharged from jail, as well as services to those who are still incarcerated.
Gregoire told the commissioners the new contract will fill in a missing piece.
“Looking at how clients struggle once released, a case manager sets people up for success,” he said. “Case management works. It’s not a magic bullet, but it does work.”
The commissioners were unanimous in their support of the relationship.
The services provided under the contract will support treatment of any drug addictions, but have a particular focus on opioid addiction. Federal funding for recovery treatments have been focused on opioid addiction recently, and several medical treatment options are available.
These services collectively will provide what is known as a “warm hand-off.” Everett Maroon, executive director of Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, the service agency that shortens its name to BMH2H, explained the picturesque term.
“The warm hand-off is a term in health care and behavioral health that means a patient/client is not just referred to a new or additional provider, but that the new provider gets some information on that individual before the transition,” he said. “It might even include walking the patient into the new provider’s office and sitting with both of them for the first appointment.”
Once the contract is finalized BMH2H will provide medical and behavioral health services to adults in the county corrections facility. Maroon said inmates are currently served by a nurse on location, and the new contract is likely to continue that strategy. In addition, he hopes to have a medical provider with prescribing authority see inmates more frequently than they are currently seen. The agency will also bring in a case manager to help identify needs inmates have prior to release.
BMH2H will also provide 24/7 on-call support to the jail.
“Our goal,” said Maroon, “will be to identify needs, assess their situation and what brought them to jail, offer an opportunity to begin medication to treat their opioid abuse problem if that’s appropriate, link them to care, and extend those linkages after release.”
The agency will be able to continue offering services post-release. These include care navigation, insurance navigation, naloxone distribution to minimize overdose death risk, housing assistance, food and nutritional support, some support for medical transportation, vouchers for yoga and/or acupuncture to help treat cravings, and in the future, virtual support groups.
“We can set the table for people but it’s up to them to sit down and eat the meal,” said Gregoire. “I’m confident that the direction we’re headed in is going to provide some great recovery for people.”
And that’s what the contract is all about. “We are here to stick with people on their journey to getting their lives back in control,” Maroon added.