Introduction and upcoming to OC and efforts against opioids
For this month’s Opioid Epidemic Hero of the Month, we would like to introduce Tiffany Hwang, a substance use navigator (SUN) at UCI Health. Her role entails bridging patients from the Emergency Department or hospital to outpatient clinics, and ensuring they receive a prescription that can last them until their first appointment at an outpatient clinic where they can continue receiving their medication assisted treatment (MAT) appointments. Tiffany graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in Public Health, where she had initial interests in furthering her understanding of drug use. Working as an Americorps VISTA gave her the opportunity to help mitigate the Opioid Epidemic in Orange County, where she eventually found herself becoming a SUN after developing a hub-and-spoke system and partnering with the CA Bridge Program for UCI Health. The services Tiffany has provided as a SUN has helped countless patients in Orange County who are struggling with substance use disorder (SUD) to bridge their way towards treatment plans that not only help them with their recovery, but fit their lives regardless of where they are.
Is there an Opioid Epidemic Hero in your community in Orange County? If so, let us know at email@example.com! We would love to include them in our series.
Current Work and Impacts of COVID-19
Some of Tiffany’s current work as a SUN includes connecting patients to outpatient clinics and social services, ensuring these patients receive MAT medications while they await their first outpatient appointments, and overall being an advocate for these patients’ needs. Working as a SUN has helped Tiffany learn about the stigma associated with SUD; a majority of patients struggling with SUD want to get out of their addiction, but it is much harder than people looking on the outside would understand. Tiffany discussed how, unfortunately, many times these patients feel scared or apologize when they ask for help because they feel like a burden when they come seeking help at a clinic or hospital. She mentioned that in order to help mitigate this feeling, it is important to remind the patient that they are not a burden, and that we are there for them. Tiffany noted that a large barrier experienced by certain patients receiving care is homelessness, because the patients do not have a safe place to store prescribed medications, they can get robbed, and some homeless shelters are not a good environment for someone trying to recover from drug use. These factors also lead to pharmacies being less inclined to want to dispense medications for them. Thanks to Tiffany’s persistence, she has been able to help many of her patients receive their initial treatment, which they may have never obtained if not for her passion to want to help them.
According to Tiffany, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have reduced the amount of people coming into the Emergency Department, reducing the volume of patients that she sees. Also, transitioning to telehealth helped many patients make it to their appointments because it only required a phone call. An issue that came with this is that homeless patients needed a phone, and still currently needs to be addressed today.
Accomplishments, and Future Plans
One of Tiffany’s proudest accomplishments was being able to normalize this program in the hospital, and being able to reach patients not only in the Emergency Department, but also the inpatient population at the hospital. This not only helped reach more patients, but motivated more physicians to become x-waivered and provide more patients with MAT services. Tiffany’s future plans look to continue improving healthcare for the homeless population through USC’s street medicine program, where a collaboration of healthcare professionals looks to meet the homeless population where they are comfortable and help overcome the stigmas that they may have. Tiffany would like to thank the Korean Community Services (KCS) for their help in developing the program she is working in now, and Dr. Cameron Harding at UCI Health who helped normalize her program into the hospital.
Opioid Hero of the Month: April 2021