Current Work and Impacts of COVID-19
Being in Orange County for more than 20 years, KCS has seen many changes over the years. The demographic changes that have occurred in the county are significant. The county is now 22% Asian, and being a female Asian leader and provider she has been able to understand how behavioral health programs need to be tailored for communities of color. Additionally, the substance use disorder field has gone through many different phases, the latest one being the reintroduction of healthcare professionals into this field of mental health services. During the COVID-19 pandemic, at KCS they provided all the frontline services they could, from navigating patients through information and providing COVID-19 tests. Thanks to the quick transition to telehealth, there was a lower no show rate and they were still able to stay in excellent contact with their patients.
Accomplishments, and Future Plans
One of Ellen’s proudest accomplishments in the county is being able to provide and operationalize medication assisted treatment services and mental health services for all communities that her clinic is serving. In terms of her short term and long term goals, Ellen looks to continue improving opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment with integrated whole person care. Ellen believes it should not be the patient’s burden to go to 100s of places to receive the care they need, from social services to OUD treatment. Ellen’s future goals include developing KCS into a place where patients can receive all the care services they may need in one place.
Finally, Ellen would like to thank everyone along the spectrum of care in Orange County who has helped the community in any way possible. Ellen reaches out with empathetic arms to the hospitals, clinics, and services in the county because she understands that providing these services is not easy, and is often not well-rewarded. To all those heroes, thank you. Overall, substance use disorder services are not yet diversified, but Ellen intends to bring her strength as a substance use disorder professional and an Asian American to provide cross-sectional services for these individuals.
Introduction and upcoming to OC and efforts against opioids
This month’s Opioid Hero of the Month is Ellen Ahn! She is the executive director for the Korean Community Services (KCS) Health Center, a federally qualified health center and community clinic. They run one of the largest medication assisted treatment (MAT), drug, and alcohol programs in the county. Ellen’s work leading KCS has provided countless patients in the community with a wide variety of services, ranging from mental health first-aid programs to typical healthcare programs. Ellen grew up in the Southern California area of Los Angeles Koreatown but pursued higher education outside of California, earning her law degree and returning to settle in Orange County where she worked in a corporate law practice. Ellen’s journey towards fighting against the opioid epidemic started when she began volunteering at the nonprofit organization of KCS more than 20 years ago, and before she knew it Ellen fell in love with her work. Her time as a volunteer soon developed into a career that she loved, with enough passion to become the executive director. Part of Ellen’s motivations for choosing this career against the Opioid Epidemic includes her family’s past medical history of mental and alcohol use disorder, and the lack of people working in this cross sectional area of behavioral health and substance use disorder services in colored communities. In order to better help these individuals, Ellen went back to school for social work and became a certified drug and alcohol counselor, providing quality substance use disorder services when she returned to KCS.
Is there an Opioid Epidemic Hero in your community in Orange County? If so, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org! We would love to include them in our series.
Opioid Hero of the Month: May 2021