(Sept. 27, 2019) The Worcester County Health Department and the Ocean City Fire Department held a tour of the Safe Station at the 15th Street fire station in Ocean City on Wednesday. The Safe Station, which opened on Sept. 1, is for people seeking drug addiction treatment to receive immediate, basic services and a referral to a treatment program.
According to Mike Trader, assistant director for Worcester County’s behavioral health program, when a person walks in for addiction services, he or she will be medically evaluated by emergency medical services staff. Staff may transfer the patient to a hospital if he or she has outstanding medical issues.
If there are no outstanding medical issues, fire house staff will call the Worcester County’s peer support group and someone will come over to speak with the patient in a designated room and determine the patient’s program needs. These programs could be in-patient or out-patient treatment or a recovery group.
“The key for us is opening the door and saying ‘There is no wrong time to get help,’” Trader said. “There’s no wrong place to get help. We want to make sure we’re there and ready to respond when folks decide ‘I’m going to make this next step toward my recovery.’”
According to Trader, the fire station at 15th Street was chosen because it’s staffed 24/7 and geographically matches the area where most overdoses have occurred. He emphasized that those seeking help can still go to the county health department Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Snow Hill on Public Landing Road, but the safe station is a place to go to receive services no matter the time or day.
Worcester County’s safe station is modeled after Anne Arundel County’s, where every police or fire station is also a designated safe station. Jennifer LaMade, director of planning, quality and core services at the Worcester County Health Department, said that the police department in Gloucester, Massachusetts was the nation’s first safe station and Manchester, New Hampshire was the first to open a safe station in a fire department.
“If we find something that’s working in another community, we do our best to replicate it and see if it will work in our community,” LaMade said.
According to LaMade, 15 people as of midweek have received services from Ocean City’s safe station. Seven of those have gone on to in-patient care.
“Any life saved is a great success for us,” LaMade said.
Sandy Kerrigan, the community-based services manager for Worcester County Health Department, thanked Hudson Health Services for helping develop and implement safe station in both Worcester and Wicomico Counties.
“We identified that one of our biggest needs would be crisis beds and the ability to place individuals in treatment facilities as quickly as possible,” Kerrigan said. “Hudson Health Services and President and CEO Leslie Brown heard our need for crisis beds and set into motion to help to identify and give us access to two crisis beds as well as nontraditional intake hours and a 24-hour referral line.”
Kerrigan recognized those who assisted the development of the safe station, including Hudson Health Services, the Worcester County Fire Department, the Worcester County Warriors, the Atlantic Club, State’s Attorney Kris Heiser, the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office and the Worcester County peer support specialists.
“We know that if we want to make lasting change in the community, it’s not just one person or agency,” Trader said. “It’s a community effort and a community response.”
Trader added that though there are no definite plans for more safe stations at this time, he hopes to open more in the future. People seeking help for substance abuse treatment can also call the hotline number 211, which provides additional assistance regarding food, housing, domestic violence and more.