Total Health Care, Tuerk House partner on substance abuse

Total Health Care announced Friday that it is partnering with long-time substance abuse center, Tuerk House, to provide improved care for people with alcohol and drug addictions. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

Total Health Care is adding a longtime substance abuse center in the Sandtown-Winchester community under its umbrella of nine community health centers.

The federally funded Baltimore entity joined Friday with board members of Tuerk House to announce their plans to merge. By combining resources, the health care organizations hope they will be able to provide more comprehensive substance abuse treatment to addicts.


"It will allow us to provide care in a way that is unprecedented and groundbreaking," said Faye Royale-Larkins, the CEO of Total Health Care. "Our vision is to treat the whole person and not just the addiction."

The deal will allow for better coordination of primary care and counseling for addiction and mental health, officials say. While Total Health Care already provides substance abuse services, it's on an outpatient basis. Tuerk House, on the other hand, does not offer general medical care — just drug and alcohol treatment.


Under the agreement, a primary care physician, physician assistant or nurse could be housed at Tuerk House.

Many Total Health Care and Tuerk House patients already overlap and the new agreement would make cross-treatment easier, executives with both organizations said.

"It really will make it seamless for the client," Royale-Larkins said.

The merger comes as the city, like other communities around the country, faces an unprecedented heroine problem. A report released earlier this week by a heroin task force created by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake estimates about 18,900 people use the drug in Baltimore, and that heroin accounted for 192 overdose deaths out of 303 drug- and alcohol-related deaths last year.

That's up from about 150 heroin-related deaths in 2013.

The mayor said she hoped the holistic approach to addiction could help with the city's drug problem. If she had to choose one thing to change about the city, she said it would be drug addiction.

"This agreement will improve health outcomes for so many," Rawlings-Blake said during the announcement.

Founded by Dr. Isadore Tuerk in 1970, Tuerk House operates from a single location and has served about 25,000 clients during its existence. About 95 percent of its clients live below the poverty line.

Total Health Care has nine existing locations, including one recently opened at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. It also is expanding into Anne Arundel County, taking over a gap left when People's Community Health Centers shut down last year. About 37,000 patients were treated at Total Health Care facilities in its 2014 fiscal year.

By becoming part of a larger entity, Tuerk House officials hope to be able to raise more money to make physical improvements to its facility on North Ashburton Street and access electronic medical records and other medical tools that are costly for a small organization.

"The health care needs of our patients go way beyond what we can provide here," said David Pittenger, who chairs the board of Tuerk House.

Kevin Tyler, chairman of Total Health Care, said Tuerk House was a good match because it serves some of the same communities and has a similar mission to improve the health of the city's poor.


"It's just a natural merger," he said. "It makes all the sense in the world."

The merger is expected to be completed in the fall. No money will be exchanged under the deal and the boards of both entities will remain intact, although they will share some members.

Aaron Mitchell said he received treatment at Tuerk House years ago and credits the organization for turning his life around. He told the crowd at Friday's gathering that if a merger will open the doors to helping more addicts, that is a good thing.

"I want everybody that's caught up in the grips of addiction to get what I got," he said.


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