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Emergency Department entrance on the Summa Health System -- Akron Campus.

United Way helps Summa patients take 'First Step' to recovery

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2020 edition of Promise magazine.

Ten minutes. That’s all the time it takes for opiate-addicted patients to change their minds about taking the first step to recovery. Helping them in the emergency department − before they change their minds − and following through with wraparound services after they take that first step could mean the difference between life and death. 

“The more we can help patients in the beginning, the better their chances for recovery,” said Jaimie McKinnon, vice president, Summa Health Behavioral Health Institute. “Patients who want to start a recovery program want help immediately. If we wait 10 minutes, they have changed their minds.” 

Uniting community forces

To facilitate recovery beyond the emergency department, United Way of Summit County is putting new meaning into the concept of “united” by helping Summa Health unite community resources into a collaborative network to fight opiate addiction. The $450,000 grant for 2020-2021 strengthens United Way’s partnership with Summa in achieving Bold Goal 4: Reduce emergency department visits due to opioid-related drug overdoses. Working together, United Way of Summit County and Summa Health have reduced overdose deaths by nearly 50 percent. 

Early in the opioid crisis, Summa Health was one of the only institutions in the state offering an intervention program for opioid-dependent patients, said Mr. McKinnon. As the crisis intensified in Summit County, which in 2017 ranked sixth in the state out of 88 counties for overdose deaths, other local agencies and institutions started offering programs, each of which varied in the types of services offered.“Everyone had pieces of the solution, but no one had it all,” said Mr. McKinnon. “With United Way funding, we were able to take all the elements that we knew were effective and put them in one place.”

Jim Mullen

“Recovery often presents many hurdles for patients to overcome, and United Way is committed to working with partners across the community to remove those hurdles,” said Jim Mullen, president and chief executive officer of United Way of Summit County. “This collaboration gives patients the tools and the support they need to start their journey to recovery — and to stay on it.”

Personalizing care

Among other benefits, the community network makes it possible to tailor long-term recovery programs to the specific needs of patients who begin medication-assisted treatment in the emergency department.  

With First Step program assistance, "show" rates for patients’ first appointments for follow-up care and counseling have been better than average at 66 percent on the Akron Campus and 76 percent on the Barberton Campus.

The United Way grant for 2020-2021 is the second award to Summa Health supporting the First Step program that began as a pilot program on the Barberton Campus in 2018. In the first year of the program, unintentional drug overdose deaths in Summit County dropped 46 percent, and the number of overdoses dropped 48 percent.

Removing barriers to treatment

With the program now expanded to the Akron Campus and a dedicated care delivery team in place, the recovery process extends far beyond emergency treatment. Working with United Way and other members of the First Step Addiction Collaborative, Summa Health caregivers begin the process of removing barriers to follow-up treatment. For one patient, it might be lack of transportation; another patient might have childcare issues; still another patient might need help with housing and food. Trained and certified peer-support specialists are on call 24/7 to support patients in the Emergency Department and beyond. 

“If we get patients to their first appointment, it really helps for the long term,” said Mr. McKinnon, referring to patients’ continuing appointments for counseling and participation in Summa’s intensive outpatient programs in Akron, Barberton, Canton and Hudson. 

What’s ahead? Expanding the life-saving benefits of the First Step program to Green in partnership with United Way of Summit County and, eventually, Medina.

“It is my sincere belief that our collective energies will reap great rewards,” said Mr. McKinnon. “At a national level, Summa will serve as a bastion of hope for those who too often feel hopeless.”

Thank you, community partners!

  • United Way of Summit County
  • Summit County Public Health
  • Catholic Charities
  • County of Summit Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board 
  • Portage Path Behavioral Health
  • BrightView
  • Community Health Center
  • Oriana House
  • IBH Addiction Recovery Center 
  • Akron Urban Minority Alcoholism Drug Abuse Outreach Program

For more information about supporting the Summa Health Behavioral Health Institute, contact Andra Polasky at 330.375.3873 or


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