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St. Mary Medical Center and Loma Linda University Health are partnering to enhance heart care in the High Desert, and the first step is a plan for a team of Loma Linda cardiovascular surgeons to practice locally.

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New opioid treatment available at St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley

Patients battling opioid use disorder or who have overdosed are now receiving a new kind of treatment at St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley.

Through a $175,000 grant, St. Mary is now participating in the California Bridge Program that is designed to enhance access to around-the-clock treatment for substance use disorders and help patients to enter and remain in treatment.

Rather than discourage these patients – as many as 15 a week – the emergency department staff treats them as they would any other patient with an illness, with medication and a treatment plan designed as a bridge to rehabilitation. 

“If we drive them away, we don’t help them. They go to the needle, to heroin, fentanyl and the other synthetics. And they can overdose and even die,” said Michael Sequiera, M.D., an emergency physician who leads the program. “We want to reverse that. We can reduce harm, and treatment success does not require breaking the habit.” 

A key part of treatment is Buprenorphine, an opioid but one that latches onto the body’s opioid receptors to help ease the harsh symptoms of withdrawal. While “bupe” provides some of the effects of opioids, it’s difficult to overdose. Studies show remarkable results. 

“By suppressing withdrawal long enough to create a bridge for patients to enter and remain in treatment, physicians can save lives,” said Andrew Herring, M.D., director of emergency department services for the Bridge program. “We know this model works, and now we are bringing it to hospitals and emergency rooms all across the state that are anxious for real solutions to address the enormous pain and suffering they see every day caused by the opioid epidemic.” 

St. Mary is one of 311 hospitals and treatment centers across the state selected to participate in the California Bridge Program, an accelerated training program for healthcare providers, facilitated by the Public Health Institute. The medical center received $175,000 from the state Department of Health Care Services to hire a navigator for patients and to train the staff in a new philosophy of treating addicts. The Bridge program is funded through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration state-targeted response to the opioid crisis. 

Dr. Sequiera estimates the St. Mary emergency department cares for five to 15 opioid addicts a week. This includes people with chronic pain, behavioral disorders, some who are pregnant and others in the throes of withdrawal. 

The goal is to raise the level of care in the High Desert, making it possible for patients to seek treatment close to home.

“This is about improving cardiac care in the High Desert,” St. Mary Chief Executive Randall Castillo said. “Loma Linda is highly recognized, and a lot of residents travel down the hill to seek care. We want to expand services here to our community so people don’t have to travel.”

Surgeon Sarika Jain, M.D., will open the local office next month and be joined by five other Loma Linda University Health surgeons who will rotate weekly to expand local care. They are Anees Razzouk, M.D., Joshua Chung, M.D., Rosario Floridia, M.D., David Rabkin, M.D., and Bruce Toporoff, M.D.

The team of Loma Linda University Health physicians plans to open an office adjacent to the hospital on Sept. 1.

“We think there is a big need in Apple Valley and the surrounding High Desert Area,” Dr. Jain said. “Patients often have to look for treatment out of their community because there is not enough surgical availability there. It’s a really good opportunity.”

The partnership provides a perfect fit for two not-for-profit faith-based medical centers that share values of compassion, excellence and integrity.  Loma Linda University Health is nationally recognized for quality and safety. St. Mary was named this year as one of America’s Top 250 hospitals, according to Healthgrades.

One goal for St. Mary is to build its volume of cardiovascular services to improve its expertise.  At the same time, the partnership creates a path for the most seriously ill to seamlessly transfer to Loma Linda for next-level care.

Nationally, there has been a decline over decades in heart surgeries due to new medications and to advanced interventional procedures such as minimally-invasive placements of stents to open arteries, rather than performing surgical bypass procedures. But the need remains for highly trained surgeons to treat the most serious cases and Castillo believes patients benefit by getting that care in their community.

“This is a key first step in our plan to broaden our expertise for heart patients to better meet the needs of our community,” Castillo said. “We’re very excited about this partnership.”

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Phone: 760-946-8841
Address: 18300 Hwy 18, Apple Valley, CA 92307
Email: StMaryFoundation@providence.org

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