NEW YORK, NY (09/15/2020) (readMedia)-- Ann Marie Foster, CEO and President of Phoenix House of New York and Long Island, testified at a New York State Assembly hearing today, detailing the extreme challenges faced by addiction treatment providers dealing with the impacts of COVID-19.
Foster warned elected officials "there has been an increase in the number of relapses and new cases of addiction" and "a startling increase in overdoses" while "addiction care providers have received less assistance from government--a deadly double hit."
In her testimony, she also called for more resources and state aid for addiction treatment. For the past six months, New York State has held back funding for addiction and rebab centers, like Phoenix House. "The lack of help made our patients, staff and New Yorkers less safe," Foster said.
See attached and below for Foster's testimony.
About Phoenix House:
Since 1967, Phoenix House New York has helped thousands of people overcome substance and alcohol abuse in order to lead healthy, productive, and rewarding lives. Phoenix House New York offers short-term and long-term residential, intensive outpatient, and general outpatient treatment. Phoenix House also offers treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders, medical, psychiatric, and dental services, and impaired driver programs. These services are designed to meet the individual needs of adults at various stages of recovery, including military personnel, and veterans. In addition, Phoenix House provides educational and supportive services to family members, friends, significant others, and the community.
Phoenix House Assembly testimony
Hi, I am Ann Marie Foster, CEO and President of Phoenix House.
The Covid crisis upended critical progress we made in recent years against the opioid epidemic and troubling trends in addiction. There has been an increase in the number of relapses and new cases of addiction. And there has been a startling increase in overdoses.
That should not be surprising considering the stresses and anxieties created by the Covid crisis, including isolation at home, unemployment, fear brought on by the crisis, and lack of contact with support systems. Meanwhile, addiction care providers have received less assistance from government--a deadly double hit. The lack of help made our patients, staff and New Yorkers less safe.
That has to change. Addiction service providers serve a vulnerable community with diminished capacity to fight off Covid, and they need more help.
We must also remember that those struggling with substance use are much more likely to be vectors for the illness. If they go untreated, it is not just their health that is at risk, it is the public's. Yet without adequate aid, providers options are often either to risk our own lives providing treatment or THESE PATIENTS END UP ON THE STREETS because many of whom are homeless and mentally ill.
At the same time, our next push against the opioid crisis was meant to come from billions of dollars in settlement funds won by states' attorneys general in their lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies. But now those cases are delayed as courts slowly move through their backlogs created by Covid.. We are doing what we can with limited resources. When Covid struck, we set up a war room and quickly added new safety protocols and procedures, much like what Governor Cuomo did when COVID-19 first hit New York. We can all learn from the Governor's strong initial response to the virus, and put that same effort into how we treat substance use disorder.
Our nursing team had to take on a SWAT-like role. We scrounged for PPE and hand sanitizers because we did not receive them the way hospitals did, even though we run facilities with vulnerable patients. And when we sent Covid patients in serious condition to hospitals, they sent them right back when they were "stable" but still highly contagious.
First and foremost we need resources. The State must include robust drug treatment programs in its COVID-19 spending. We need more dollars to support training, educating our workforce for addiction treatment. More dollars to support those going into the field of social work, peer advocates, certified recovery peer advocates. And the expansion of tele-health and the technology and training to support it will be essential in providing adequate addiction care to New Yorkers going forward.
When Covid hit, we could not admit new residents and sent others home to make space for Covid-positive patients who were the most in need and had to be isolated. We essentially became an urgent care facility on top of addiction care treatment facility -- at great risk to our staff and patients -- yet we were not provided with the resources or equipment we needed.
Initially, we were also not designated essential workers but we were very much -- and still are very much -- on the front lines of fighting Covid and its disastrous effects on vulnerable communities. We are reminded of this every day with the memory of Dr. Douglas Bass, our dedicated and beloved medical director, who died during the height of the pandemic from cardiac distress. He is believed to be the first city physician claimed by Covid-19. Dr. Bass should not have died. People suffering from addiction and mental illness should not be treated like second-rate patients. And New Yorkers must be protected from the spread of Covid, a pandemic in the middle of an opioid epidemic.
Treating addiction stops the spread of Covid. Please prioritize it. Thank you.