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Annapolis-developed tech could improve Safe Stations connections

Phil Davis
Contact Reporterpdavis@capgaznews.com

When Anne Arundel County started its program to turn police stations and firehouses into addiction treatment resource centers, officials immediately ran into a problem with efficiency.

The first person to use Safe Stations was almost discouraged from treatment when she was told it would take a week to place her in treatment. An hour and many calls later, the county officials working on the program found a residential bed available and connected her to treatment within 45 minutes.

Jenna Keefer, 30, of Brooklyn Park, has since become a vocal advocate for the program, helping connect others to treatment through Safe Stations.

Kevin Simmons, the Annapolis director of emergency management, knows officials got lucky.

“If you have to wait long for beds, people get kind of disappointed, they get frustrated, they get sick,” Simmons said. “And what they want to do is use drugs again.”

That’s why he asked his office, alongside the city Office of Management Information Technology, to come up with a solution that would allow those working to make the program a success quickly see where beds are available.

“My thought process is if an ambulance can know what hospitals are available, any time, any day, then we should be able to know what treatment beds are available for people who want treatment for substance abuse,” Simmons said.

The result is software that works on a desktop, tablet or mobile phone to provide real-time information on the availability of treatment beds in the county and region. Treatment providers update their available bed totals through at the opening and closing each day.

The brainchild of Shawn Wampler, geographic information systems coordinator for the city, the system is a joint project between Annapolis and the Anne Arundel County Department of Health currently under review. No date has been set for its launch.

A demonstration Thursday showed how treatment providers enter their available beds and the system updates the total a few minutes later, a feature Wampler and others working on the project hope they make more instantaneous. Providers are also given a unique registration code they must input so as to cut down on the possibility of false information being input into the system.

After working on it for a little less than a year, the technology was handed off to the county Health Department in February for integration into the county-wide Safe Stations program.

Jen Corbin, head of the Mobile Crisis Team that serves as the backbone of the program by connecting prospective patients to treatment, said it has not been integrated into the teams that respond to Safe Stations calls.

Simmons said as its continues to be developed, they’ve had a strong response by treatment providers that want to participate. He said when County Health Officer Fran Phillips called all of treatment centers to Annapolis in October to discuss the program, there was an overwhelmingly positive response.

Pathways, Serenity Sistas and several others are already on board, with at least one as far away as St. Mary’s County in Walden Sierra.

“They said ‘We have beds. We want to help,’” Mary Kate Hudson, an emergency planner with the city. “And we said ‘Are you sure? Because we have a lot of people who may need the beds. Inpatient, outpatient, whatever it may be.’”

“The next thing you know, we set them up and they were full,” she added.

At least 56 people have died from drug overdoses in Anne Arundel County this year through April 24, officials hope this will be yet another piece of their response to break down more barriers to treatment.

But despite all of the providers currently in the program, a snapshot of the working dashboard Thursday revealed there were only eight beds available for treatment.

Whereas county officials say sometimes as many as seven people will take advantage of Safe Stations in a single day.

Simmons said that while Safe Stations is largely succeeding in connecting people to treatment, he hopes this new technology will help quicken team’s responses to incoming prospective patients while the program continues to address ongoing capacity issues through state and county funding.

“We’re a victim of our own success,” Simmons said.

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