DENTON — A purple bus is ready to make opioid addiction treatment more accessible to Marylanders on the Mid-Shore.
The bus is the centerpiece of the Eastern Shore Mobile Care Collaborative, a partnership between Caroline County and Maryland officials, to bring a combination of on-site care and telemedicine directly to those who need it in Caroline, Talbot and Queen Anne’s counties.
Its recent launch was celebrated Tuesday, April 2, in front of the Caroline County Circuit Courthouse in Denton.
“This is a big deal for us,” said Caroline County Commission President Larry Porter. “Health care access, and in particular, transportation, is a major problem.”
The nearly 40-foot bus, a mobile treatment unit, is staffed by a nurse and peer recovery specialist, and is equipped with medical supplies and telecommunication devices, allowing patients to videoconference with an addictions medicine specialist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Anyone can call 410-479-1882 or dial 211 — Maryland’s resource hotline — to refer themselves or a loved one for treatment on the unit.
The unit will be housed at the Caroline County Health Department in Denton, and will respond to calls for treatment from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Medical assistance and self-pay will be accepted.
Patients should have their insurance card and MVA-issued ID. They will also need their ID to pick up any prescriptions that might be prescribed by the treatment unit’s staff.
Dr. Eric Weintraub, associate professor of psychiatry at the School of Medicine, said the ultimate goal is to train enough providers in rural areas so telemedicine services are no longer needed, but until then, the mobile treatment bus will help fill that void.
“We’ve been battling opioid addiction for many years at the School of Medicine,” Weintraub said. “We are figuring out how to pipe out our expertise and expand treatment access to rural areas.”
Frances Phillips, deputy secretary of public health services for the Maryland Department of Health, said the bus is an innovative, creative solution to the opioid addiction epidemic in underserved rural areas.
“It’s hard to take that first step (toward treatment),” Phillips said. “It’s more accessible now with this van.”
Steve Schuh, executive director of the Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center, said the bus now serving the Mid-Shore is only the second such mobile treatment unit in the state, and should serve as a model for bringing those services to other rural areas.
“The most effective efforts are grassroots one like this, that meet people where they are in their journey of addiction,” Schuh said.
Schuh credited Gov. Larry Hogan for being the first governor in the U.S. to declare a state of emergency in response to the opioid addiction epidemic, and thanked county and state officials for their leadership in bringing the new mobile treatment unit to the Mid-Shore.
Caroline County Health Officer Scott LeRoy said the new treatment option builds on the findings and recommendations of a state work group that studied in 2016 how to better address the growing epidemic in rural areas.
That work group found a lack of transportation and providers were two of the biggest hurdles faced by rural residents, both of which are overcome by the mobile unit, LeRoy said.
“This is a new beginning,” LeRoy said. “The work starts today.”
Funding for the mobile treatment program was provided by the Health Resources & Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the Maryland Behavioral Services Administration and the Caroline County Health Department.