Nationwide opioid epidemic prompts VA to implement life-saving idea

Through VA’s Diffusion of Excellence Initiative, innovators are helping VA prevent Veteran opioid-related deaths by making it easier to deliver life-saving medication.

Opioid overdoses take the lives of thousands of Americans each year, claiming nearly 30,000 in 2014 alone. To complicate matters, Veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdose than non-Veterans.

Fortunately, there is a drug, Intranasal Naloxone, known as Narcan, that can effectively reverse opioid overdoses. But Narcan is not typically available at the time of an overdose. A Boston VA Health Care System employee saw an opportunity to improve reaction time, by training nearly 700 Veterans, staff members and VA Police to administer Narcan. They also made Narcan readily available in automated external defibrillator cabinets placed throughout the facility so staff could access it quickly.

Pamela Bellino-Rivera, director of patient safety at the VA Boston Health Care System worked with Steve Elliot, VISN 8 chief of police, to ensure wide-spread availability of Narcan to help save lives.

Pamela Bellino-Rivera, director of patient safety at the VA Boston Health Care System worked with Steve Elliot, VISN 8 chief of police, to ensure wide-spread availability of Narcan to help save lives.

Boston VA’s Pam Bellino-Rivera submitted this practical solution and has overseen its implementation at all Boston sites – Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury, Brockton and the region’s outpatient clinics.

“We saw a number of events where patients were experiencing an opioid overdose,” she said. “There was a delay in administering Narcan while waiting for the ambulance or the medical team to arrive. We needed first responders to have Narcan readily available.”

The results? Since 2014, 98 Veteran lives have been saved as a result of this practice.

Bellino-Rivera’s idea is an example of how VA’s Diffusion of Excellence Initiative not only gives VA employees a forum to suggest solutions, it provides an avenue to spread the best practices from their facilities to VA medical centers across the nation.

Through the Diffusion for Excellence effort, VISN 8 was selected to implement the practices and they are in the process of implementing it across VISN 8.

VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin created the initiative during his tenure as undersecretary for Health, to identify and disseminate promising practices, as well as standardize those that promote positive outcomes for Veterans systemwide. The initiative empowers employees to share innovations and drive a supportive culture of continuous improvement.

Since its inception, VA has identified more than 1,000 practices submitted by front-line staff to address health care priorities of improving access, care coordination, employee engagement, quality and safety, and the Veteran experience.

The initiative continues to foster department-wide innovations that can quickly spread from idea to reality in VA facilities across the country not only to meet the needs of Veterans but possibly save their lives.

Posted on June 18, 2017 .