Greater Cincinnati Health Systems Align on Regional Approach to Opioid Epidemic

Shannan Schmitt
Director of Communications
(513) 307-0328

Release Date: December 15, 2017

Regional hospitals are working together, with government and public health, on collective approach to opioid crisis

CINCINNATI – Like many areas throughout the nation, the Greater Cincinnati Tristate region has been grappling with how to halt the continuing opioid epidemic. From local government & law enforcement agencies, to public health officials, hospitals, & primary care physicians, the struggle to address skyrocketing rates of addiction and overdose cuts across sectors and often exhausts community resources.

The Health Collaborative (THC) is a regional non-profit organization based in Cincinnati, Ohio, that brings health and healthcare stakeholders together to find mutual solutions to the most challenging healthcare problems faced by the community. Specifically, THC represents and coordinates the collective approach of regional systems related to proposed clinical, policy, or funding initiatives. In addition, THC represents its hospital members on the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition – chaired by County Commissioner Denise Driehaus – ensuring their alignment with Hamilton County as they strive for regional solutions. The opioid epidemic and its many implications have quickly risen to the top of the THC’s community-and-data-driven set of priorities.

Recognizing the urgent need to mobilize its members for collective impact, The Health Collaborative’s steering committee – which is comprised of senior healthcare leaders, including senior executives representing all the major health systems and other hospitals in Greater Cincinnati and St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Northern Kentucky – directed an environmental scan of our region’s current opioid epidemic response efforts to inform a collective strategy moving forward.

Upon analysis of the environmental scan, which represented responses from The Health Collaborative’s more than 30 regional hospital members, the Steering Committee and the health system CEOs determined the Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) of the six large health systems would assume leadership of this important work, first aligning efforts in Hamilton County with the work of Commissioner Driehaus’s heroin coalition with the goal of striving for consistent approaches across the region.

In April, the CMOs identified a set of agreed-upon and shared clinical strategies for prevention, intervention, and treatment that would have regional impact. Consensus has been reached to move forward in the planning and execution of the following four strategies, with the group committed to convening on a regular basis:

1. Implement Emergency Department (ED) Treatment Protocol developed by Hamilton County Heroin Coalition: This means that patients who present to the Emergency Department in a Cincinnati area hospital will receive the same standard of care, reducing the opportunity for variation in treatment and hopefully improving outcomes for those patients struggling with substance abuse disorder.

2. SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, & Referral to Treatment) Training & Adoption: This standardized screening process, with a regional focus on primary care and ED care providers, will allow providers to more consistently and proactively identify patients struggling with substance use disorder, enabling their healthcare provider to refer to treatment sooner and prevent patients from spiraling further out of control.

3. Primary care education & training on prescribing patterns: Recently, much research has been published supporting more conservative use of prescription pain pills. Through the platform of the Comprehensive Primary Care Plus (CPC+) program facilitated through THC, primary care physicians across Ohio and in Northern Kentucky are now receiving information and education on alternative pain treatment options and current best practices when prescribing pain pills to patients.

4. Increasing capacity for Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT): For providers to be able to prescribe Suboxone or other effective treatment options, they must attend training and become certified. Federal funding has been dedicated through the 21st Century Cures Act in part to help increase the number of providers able to perform MAT with their patients. The Greater Cincinnati region is working with the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services and American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) to host regional trainings to increase this capacity for providers. In fact, earlier this year, THC partnered with the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services to host the first regional MAT provider training in October 2017.

“Our regional hospitals and health systems continue to demonstrate leadership in addressing the opioid crisis, committing their clinical leadership to implementing shared protocols and refining overarching strategies,” said Sara Bolton, Sr. Director, Programs & Services at The Health Collaborative. “As we continue to strive for regional impact in opioid response efforts within our communities and health systems, The Health Collaborative is committed to working with our regional hospitals to develop a shared approach to ensuring a sustained solution for our community.”

Quotes from health system leadership:
“All health systems in the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region recognize our critical role in addressing the opioid crisis,” said Dr. Michael Jennings, Vice President & Chief Clinical Officer of The Christ Hospital Health Network. “By partnering with local and regional leaders across the continuum of government, public health organizations, law enforcement and with the collaboration and facilitation provided by The Health Collaborative, we are bringing a united, consistent approach to both the treatment and prevention aspects of this complex public health crisis. These efforts include but are not limited to: standard treatment protocols for treatment of overdose patients, focused education for providers most likely to provide treatment for chronic pain and recognizing/directing treatment for addiction, and increasing the number of providers who are able to prescribe appropriate medications as part of an addiction program.”
– Dr. Michael Jennings, Vice President & Chief Clinical Officer of The Christ Hospital Health Network

“At UC Health, our caregivers see the impact of the opioid epidemic every day – and in partnership with the University of Cincinnati, we are working to find evidence-based solutions,” said Richard P. Lofgren, MD, president & CEO of UC Health. “As the region’s academic health system, we are pioneering and fine-tuning new treatment methods through federally-funded research in the areas of patient-centered intervention methods, post-treatment behavioral  change, postpartum treatment retention, overdose education and naloxone distribution. It is this kind of work that will lay the foundation for the answers that will eliminate this crisis, and we are committed to working collaboratively with our partners across the community to share information and find solutions to this epidemic. We are in this together – our neighbors and our communities are counting on us.”
– Richard P. Lofgren, MD, President & CEO of UC Health

“Mercy Health is committed to working with our partner health systems and community agencies to facilitate care for these patients across the spectrum of care,” said Dr. Erin R. Fries, Chief Clinical Officer, Cincinnati Region. “Mercy Health has as one of its ministry-wide objectives for 2017 and 2018 to make a meaningful, positive impact on the opiate epidemic. We should be able to identify and help anyone struggling with opiate addiction whether they seek our care at our hospitals or our primary care offices. To that end, we have established collaboration agreements with 10 addiction treatment providers across Cincinnati to co-develop a comprehensive continuum of services for patients at all levels of care. Mercy Health will provide short-term, hospital-based detox before we transition them to one our outpatient partners for long-term medically-assisted treatment and support. If we all work together, I know we have the capacity to meet the needs of our Cincinnati community.”
– Dr. Erin R. Fries, Chief Clinical Officer, Mercy Health, Cincinnati Region

“Babies born to moms addicted to opioids are often born with withdrawal. These babies are the often-forgotten victims of the opioid epidemic. Cincinnati Children’s joins this Health Collaborative effort to make sure that these babies get the treatment they need and to follow them long-term, so we can better understand the long-term effects of opioid exposure in utero.”
– Derek Wheeler, Chief of Staff, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center


About The Health Collaborative: The Health Collaborative leads data-driven improvement initiatives that result in healthier people, better care, and lower costs. Based in Cincinnati, we work with those who provide care, pay for care, and receive care, to find mutual solutions to healthcare’s most challenging problems. For more information about The Health Collaborative, visit

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