To help reduce reliance on prescription painkillers, Blue Ridge Medical Center began a pilot program to relieve and manage chronic pain through alternative methods and so far, the results are proving the program successful.
Stephanie Martin, program director at BRMC, said it received $250,000 in grant funding from “Expanding Access to Quality Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Services” offered by the Health Resources and Service Administration. This money, awarded in June, went toward a Chronic Pain Management Program offered through BRMC. The point of the program is to offer people alternatives to prescription painkillers to try and avoid side effects of drugs, like addiction.
“The funding has allowed us to increase our Behavioral Health services by hiring a licensed professional counselor, train staff in trauma informed care, and it’s providing funding for patients to access non-prescription therapies for pain management, aka the chronic pain management program,” Martin said in an email.
Martin said of the 42 patients the program has as of Sept. 13, they have seen on average a 20% pain decrease.
“We have a pain scale — an evidence-based measurement tool — to measure pain. It asks about pain ‘this week,’ it asks about mental health, it asks if you need to take more pills,” Martin explained. “It asks about all the different aspects of how pain can impact your life. We do that with folks every four weeks to get a picture of how their pain changes.”
For BRMC patient and retired teacher Ann Hartman, this program has meant everything to her. Hartman had severe back pain in January of this year and went to her primary caregiver at BRMC to see what could be done.
“I was given prescription medication at the beginning of all of this. I did take them. I had to. I was in the bed, flat on my back. I couldn’t move,” Hartman said.
After speaking to her primary doctor during subsequent visits and knowing she wanted to end her dependence on the pills, Hartman was introduced to the program.
“Then I became a participant and I was given choices of something to try to see what worked for me so I could manage my own pain after a certain amount of time. The choice I made was acupuncture,” Hartman said.
Other program options include yoga, swimming and strength training. After eight sessions spread out over four weeks, Hartman said she is feeling much better and has now switched to chiropractic work to continue managing her pain.
“Between the two, it took me down from, on a 10-point scale of pain, it took me down from an 8 to around 2 or 1. It’s been amazing. It’s stayed that way,” Hartman said.
Like Hartman, Amherst County resident Penny Hawes said the program has literally changed her life. Hawes has been dealing with chronic pain for 40 years, she estimated, and didn’t want the prescription medicine she’s given to help cope.
To help with her chronic pain, Hawes now gets regular massages funded through BRMC and because of the program, hasn’t felt the need for her prescription medicine anymore.
“I think this program has been so important for people to show them there are alternatives and allow them to experience them,” Hawes said.
Anyone who is eligible to receive prescription medication for chronic pain is eligible to apply to the program. The program’s funding will last through December, Martin said. After the pilot study is over, BRMC will continue to look into sustainable ways and other educational resources to hopefully allow individuals with chronic pain to continue to manage it on their own.
“If the program continues to be successful, we are seeking out other funding sources to help sustain the program,” Martin said in an email.
Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.