You only want the best for those you care about. That’s why Appalachian Health Services was created, and it’s why the organization’s medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program is the only integrated program in the region accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
Appalachian Health Services, a division of Ohio Valley Physicians, began offering medication-assisted treatment in 2011, when an OVP physician learned a close friend was struggling with addiction.
“One of our providers came to me and said, ‘I want to be able to provide services to my friend,’” said Ohio Valley Physicians CEO Stacey Shy. “I said, ‘OK, we’ll look into it.’ It was that simple. We wanted to be able to help our family members, friends and neighbors. Addiction is something that affects all of us.”
Since the day OVP opened its first MAT office in Gallipolis, a commitment to the latest standards and treatment plans has remained a top priority. Operating in five offices throughout West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky means having an in-depth understanding of each state’s guidelines and each community’s values, said Paul Cowsar, CEO of Appalachian Health Services and vice president of clinical services at OVP.
“We worked very hard to establish the program the right way, but it wasn’t until we started comparing ourselves to national standards that we realized we really were doing a phenomenal thing here,” Cowsar said. “The accreditation process was eye-opening in a lot of ways. It showed us what we were doing well and what we could be doing better.”
Although other CARF-accredited programs exist in the region, Appalachian Health Services is the only program accredited in both counseling and medication. The program’s two components are key to its success, explained Brad Barnett, a counselor for the MAT program in Logan, West Virginia. Buprenorphine, a medication that blocks the symptoms of withdrawal but doesn’t allow the user to get high, allows clients to reach clinical stability. Then, the real work begins, he said.
“Medication-assisted treatment is two separate things,” said Barnett, who has been in recovery for his own opioid addiction since 2009. “One just makes it more comfortable to do the other. I tell clients all the time, ‘Drugs are not your problem. Drugs are a symptom of the problem.’ So, we can treat your drug dependence with medication, but the real work is addressing the underlying problems that led to your addiction. And that work is a little less difficult when you’re clinically stable.”
It’s still not easy, said Chelsea Carter, a counselor for the MAT program in Logan. She said recovery, especially early recovery, isn’t “sunshine and rainbows.” But at Appalachian Health Services, clients have a built-in support system from day one.
“You have a whole team there to support you,” said Carter, whose own recovery journey includes lifelong—and lifesaving—relationships with mentors along the way. “It’s not just your counselor. It’s the office staff, the other people who do group therapy with you, the physicians—it’s all of us. Some of our clients will come and sit in our waiting room for hours, just because it’s a safe place away from drugs. It’s amazing that they feel safe enough to come spend the day with us, even when they don’t have to, just so that they can stay sober.”
OVP’s support of clients continues long after they’ve completed the program, with family medicine and primary care services provided at all five MAT offices. For many clients, it’s the first time they’ve had access to medical care since their addiction began.
“A lot of people entering sobriety have health issues they need to address,” Shy said. “We’re able to address all of those in one place, whether it’s upper respiratory issues or hepatitis C or you just had the flu. Whatever it is, you can come to the same place, see the same people and get those issues addressed.”
It’s a genuine, nonjudgmental commitment to clients that guides them to success, from the small things, like waking up in the morning and taking a shower, to the big ones, like reentering the workforce and restoring relationships.
“The CARF accreditation is important to us because it holds us to a higher standard,” said Micca Ratliff, director of compliance at Appalachian Health Services. “We want to know that we’re doing the best job we can. And if there’s something out there that could help us do a better job, we want to know about it. We want to stay up to date on the latest research and regulations to make sure our patients are getting the best services possible.”
She said when the treatment program is held to the highest possible standard, clients aim for a higher standard themselves.
“We want our clients to know they’re not going to walk up one day and see a notice on the door that we’ve closed,” she said. “We’re going to be there. We’re going to help them. We’re going to be held to the highest standard, and we’re going to hold them to a high standard, too. We want what’s best for them.”