Dr. Alan Finkelstein loves Family Medicine — “the diversity, the opportunity to interact closely with patients through both joyous and difficult stages of their lives.” His special interest in cross-cultural health has led him to care for people in the Apache and Navajo Nations, Ecuador, India, and Bethel, Alaska, about 400 miles west of Anchorage. “You could get in and out of Bethel only by plane or canoe,” he remembers.
But since 2001, he has stayed home in Pittsburgh to care for patients and teach Family Medicine residents at the UPMC Shadyside Family Health Center, which experiences about 35,000 visits a year from people in all walks of life. As the opioid epidemic worsened locally, statewide, and nationally in the 20-teens, Dr. Finkelstein and his like-minded colleagues decided that the Family Health Center “had to be the place on the Shadyside campus where patients could seek addiction care.”
This dedicated team included, especially, Lindsay Nakaishi, MD, MPH; Lisa Schlar, MD; Scott Brown, DO; Stephanie Ballard, PharmD, BCPS, BCACP; Stefany Munsch, MSW, LSW; and Phil Phelps, LCSW, BCD, along with support from Family Medicine residents, other faculty members, and office staff.
They turned to the Shadyside Hospital Foundation for help. With combined funding from the Foundation and the Staunton Farms Foundation, the Substance Use Recovery Clinic to treat substance use disorders at the Family Health Center started in 2019.
Although COVID-19 briefly slowed its takeoff, the program now enables the Family Health Center to “effectively manage opioid and alcohol use disorders in a primary care setting,” Dr. Finkelstein says. “Patients feel well supported by having all their chronic diseases treated within one health site.”
As added benefits, the Family Health Center can now begin medications for opiate and alcohol use when their patients are admitted to Shadyside Hospital and can directly connect them to continuing outpatient care. A direct referral system also targets Emergency Department patients who have a substance use disorder and need a primary care physician.
“By welcoming these community members into our practice, we can not only treat their substance use disorders but also connect them to services they may not currently be receiving, such as preventative care, sexually transmitted disease screenings and treatment, hypertension management, women’s health care, HIV treatment and prevention, and mood disorders and Hepatitis C treatment,” Dr. Finkelstein says.
“We are really proud that the Family Health Center is becoming part of the broader solution to the addiction crisis, which touches so many lives,” he adds. “We have so far been able to train more than 30 Family Medicine residents — who will be family physicians in our communities — in caring for patients who have substance use disorders.”