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How a peer counselor is helping overdose patients in Chesterfield County

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- It’s a disease affecting every part of our community. “No one is spared. There is no one demographic and no one neighborhood.”

These are the words of Allen Yee, the Operation Medical Director for Chesterfield Fire & EMS. His team knows first-hand just how real the opioid crisis is. Emergency crews there have their hands full dealing with overdoses.

“Chances are each and every one of us knows someone who is addicted,” Yee explained. These days, he and Lt. Dan Stamp and their team are taking an out of the box approach to tackling the epidemic.

Lt. Dan Stamp

Since February, they’ve been leading a Mobile Integrated Healthcare unit. That includes a team of four paramedics who get referrals from people in the field, such as a firefighter on an engine, an ambulance, police officers, the jail or mental health workers.

They then, partner with a peer counselor to connect with overdose patients. Since February, that number in Chesterfield has reached 94.

“We want to connect with all of them. We have attempted to contact 94 people that we know of in the county that has overdosed and that Narcan has been used,” said Lt. Stamp. “Of that 94, we have been able to contact 58 percent. The ones that are very receptive to our phone call, everyone has seemed extremely surprised that we are going to their house within 10 or 15 minutes.”

Peer Support Specialist Hallie Hartman helps the team take the next step. It’s really personal for her.

“I have lived experiences with mental health challenges, trauma and substance abuse, so I’m able to use all of that negativity from my past and use it for a positive now,” said Hartman.

Hallie Hartman

Hartman’s position is funded by a grant obtained by Chesterfield County Mental Health. Yee and Stamp agree that her role is pivotal and very unique. They explained that no other locality around is using this Mobile Integrated Healthcare unit approach.

When emergency rooms get overdose patients, Hartman, Stamp and the team are contacted, and their work begins.

“She is able to make a contact and create a relationship with that person. It’s shared experiences, life experiences that I can’t match,” Lt. Stamp explained.

“I talk to them like a human. I talk to them like I’m not a clinician. I talk to them like they’re a person. They're not a code. They're not a label," said Hartman. "When someone can listen to you and understand exactly what you’re going through and just get it, it’s a special thing.”

Yee and Stamp believe the efforts of their team can help overdose patients move closer to recovery. They say once they get involved with a peer counselor, they are able to walk the patient through the process from intake to treatment. They offer long term support until the person says they no longer need it.

Yee says there’s a huge benefit to the community when so many county entities work together to deal with increasing overdoses.

“We all look at the overdose from a different set of lenses. Together we get a bigger picture, a complete picture,” Yee said.

“One of our mottos is we don’t give up on someone. We focus on one person at a time. We can’t help a thousand people that show up on Monday, but we can certainly help one person at a time with their addiction,” said Lt. Stamp.

Hartman believes that one life they help change, can make a huge difference.

In her lowest moments, she never envisioned herself as a peer recovery counselor walking others through their dark days. But, she is proud of the impact the Mobile Integrated Healthcare unit is making.

“Every day and with every case, I feel like I’m here and this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Hartman said.

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