Written by: Diana Hembree

Orange County, California has relatively high rates of opioid overdose compared with its surrounding counties and the rest of California. KCS Health Center, a local safety net clinic, was determined to bring those numbers down.

To do so, the clinic offered counseling and behavioral strategies to its patients as part of a Medication for Addiction Treatment (MAT) program. From the start, patients like Richard (Ricky) Dominguez gravitated toward the telehealth counseling service, which they found much more accessible than in-person services.  Dominguez, 26, has been battling substance use disorder since he was twelve. At the emergency room at a local hospital, he was referred to KCS, which, he says, “was a godsend.”

Since KCS’s behavioral services were based in Anaheim, an hour from his home, Dominguez says, “it would been impossible for me to be able to go in person. I have social anxiety, so telehealth has been my saving grace. With telehealth, they squeeze me in any time I need it.”

“A lot of us are in situations where we don’t have licenses, we can’t travel, we’re house-arrested or people are just coming out of penitentiaries and they need the help but they don’t know where to go,” Dominguez continues. “They don’t know where to turn, but if you have a phone, it’s right there.”

Mina Kim, LCSW, the behavioral director at KCS, is grateful to have virtual care as another way to reach patients with addiction issues and get to the root of their struggles. “A lot of depression and anxiety comes with the struggles of substance abuse,” she says. “We’re not just trying to treat the one symptom, we’re trying to treat the whole person.” 

Another patient, Christopher Rodas,  testifies to the program’s success. Imprisoned soon after he started using heroin, he learned of the program after he was released. “Now I got a great job, I got my family,” he says. “The  program helped me out throughout my journey and in knowing that I’m not alone in that journey. I’ve been clean for six years now. It’s like a blessing.”

The video was created by Beth Freeman and team for the Center for Care Innovations and Kaiser Permanente, which funded the telehealth project in Orange County as part of CCI’s Virtual Care Innovation Network, a virtual health collaboration founded by Kaiser Permanente.



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