Health

Celine Mutuyemariya is a community health worker at Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center, and every day, she helps patients juggle multiple medical appointments, sometimes for multiple medical conditions. And although she knows many of her patients struggle with drug addiction, it’s usually the last thing on a long list of medical priorities.

“Substance use support is really, really difficult to navigate, even for people like me,” Mutuyemariya said. “I’ve had less opportunity to get to know the centers and programs that are available just because with the other medical conditions they’re dealing with, they may be prioritized at the end of handling all this other stuff we initially started working on.” 

Lisa Gillespie | wfpl.org

Celine Mutuyemariya

But Mutuyemariya could soon have some help in aiding patients with substance abuse issues, thanks to a federal grant. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is giving almost $5.6 million to community health centers in Kentucky to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic.

Shawnee Christian is getting $285,000 that it will use to hire two additional staffers: a drug and alcohol counselor, and a community health worker to work with people with substance abuse disorder and other mental health issues. The money will be used to help people with addiction issues, and more specifically to target the opioid crisis, according to Clara Soh from Avalere Health, a health care consulting firm.

“Substance abuse disorder is a medical condition, but it’s really tied up in a lot of socioeconomic issues as well,” Soh said. “You need a lot different individuals from medical providers, social workers, substance abuse counselors, and that all takes resources. And a lot of states don’t have the money to provide sort of the comprehensive response that some of these individuals need.”

Many of Shawnee Christian’s patients struggle with opioid addiction. Currently, Mutuyemariya has to send them to other treatment providers for substance abuse help. If a patient goes into inpatient treatment, Shawnee Christian doesn’t have the resources to provide support once they are back in the community.

Soh said this counseling piece of the pie is just as essential as any medication given to people with an opioid addiction.

“You can get buprenorphine or methadone, but you’re also supposed to get a whole constellation of counseling services along with that,” Soh said. “And that’s really something that the community health center can really help backfill.”

Even at Shawnee Health’s current funding levels, Mutuyemariya has seen individualized, coordinated attention translate to better health outcomes for patients like Barbara Edelen. Edelen has kidney failure, and has struggled with alcoholism. Her husband, Stephen, has brain cancer. He had a cardiac arrest earlier this year and he’s also struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine.

Lisa Gillespie | wfpl.org

Barbara and Stephen Edelen

“His doctor’s appointments and my dialysis were colliding, and I was missing dialysis. It’s just been a rocky road,” Barbara Edelen said. “They kept telling me, that people on dialysis, if they miss like that, they will die.

Mutuyemariya started coordinating the couple’s medical appointments. Now, Barbara Edelen’s stress level has gone down, and she hasn’t missed a dialysis appointment yet. She’ll likely take the smoking cessation class Shawnee Christian will start offering as part of the new funding, she said. She hopes that will help her quit smoking altogether, which will clear the way for a kidney transplant.

And with that condition under control, Edelen said she and her husband are going to take advantage of whatever services Shawnee Christian has to offer — that could also include counseling for their addictions.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.