NEW BRITAIN – It was an early Thursday morning when Charles Inzucchi jumped into a New Britain EMS truck, ready to make his rounds to check in on people struggling with various addictions and in need of treatment.
“The idea is to stay connected with people who we know are using substances and for us to reach out to others who are referred to us,” said Inzucchi, a New Britain EMS paramedic and recovery care navigator. Those referrals come from the hospital system, local organizations, or word-of-mouth from family and friends.
As a recovery care navigator, a new grant-funded position that was created through the city’s Rapid Referral Network, Inzucchi connects with patients involved in substance-related 911 calls. He visits them in person to keep in touch and lets them know what resources are available to help them.
The navigator role is rotated through three EMS workers and Inzucchi said it is an amazing feeling to be able to help people directly.
“This position is particularly important and unique because it lets us meet the people, talk to them and hopefully motivate them to get help,” he said. “Most times they’re given a brochure or numbers to call but we forget these are people who are struggling. Sometimes something as simple as making a phone call could be difficult, so we’re here to go through that process with them every step of the way.”
Before the Herald hopped into the EMS truck for a ride along with the care navigator, Inzucchi gathered a list of client names and addresses to follow up on through recent incident logs. He visits several houses every day and the experience varies, sometimes people pick up the phone at first ring or answer the door, sometimes messages are left unanswered and house calls ignored.
The first stop was the Hospital of Central Connecticut’s observation unit, where Inzucchi checks in to see if there are any clients who need to go to detox. If yes, he’ll begin the process to help them get a bed. If not, he’ll start going down the list.
As Inzucchi drove through several locations where “regulars” were known to hang out, he said they start early because it’s easier to find detox beds for clients in the morning. His navigator shift typically covers from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Most recovery and treatment centers require a detox first, so that’s the crucial first step,” he said. If a client is willing, Inzucchi contacts a state access line to check for detox bed availabilities, then depending on the client, the next steps include residential treatment, recovery houses, or sober houses.
A client that he met at a popular site was open to the idea of treatment but wasn’t willing to commit on the spot when Inzucchi said he could find him a detox bed. Another client at a different location reacted similarly, stating he “wants to get help but I don’t know what I need right now.”
The client shared he started taking pills with friends and became addicted to them before he realized what was happening. He lived a regular life until he relied on the pills too much and have gone to detox several times. After a recent relapse, he decided to go “cold turkey” but was on the fence on going to a facility.
“I just don’t want to replace medication with more medication,” he said.
After leaving his contact information and heading back on the road, Inzucchi said typically one in five clients are willing to get help. Currently there are about 40 clients in New Britain that medical officials are aware of who have made 911 calls for substance-related issues but are not in treatment.
The clients come from all walks of life. Some are homeless and some have jobs while others live in rented rooms or require state assistance.
“A lot of them experience what we termed as ‘ambivalence.’ Sometimes it’s because they’re jaded from the complicated process, or they had a bad experience with treatment, or they’re afraid,” Inzucchi said “By developing a long-term human connection with them, sometimes they’re more open to getting help.”
A successful example of such a connection happened after a few unanswered house calls. Inzucchi knocked on the room door of a New Britain resident who has been battling with alcoholism for many years and sat him down to discuss his future.
During the conversation, the client shared he’s been struggling with a lot of personal troubles and living in a space he described as “dirty” and “unsafe.” It was apparent he’d been drinking and when Inzucchi pointed it out, the client didn’t deny it. After listening to his client and comforting him through several emotional outbursts, Inzucci found an opening and dived in.
“I’m here to offer you support,” he said to the client. “Let’s get you some help.” Almost immediately, the client said, “Yes, I want to go.”
An hour later, a cab came to take the client to a detox facility. As they waited, Inzucchi helped him pack a bag, cleared his room, and locked the door.
“To have this breakthrough is amazing because this was four to five months in the making,” he said. “This is just so awesome. It’s moments like these that make it all worth it.”
Making more house calls, the day ended with another bittersweet success of encouraging a client who was addicted to heroin to get help and to breakoff a mentally abusive relationship.
They met at a public space for safety reasons and the client said she was clean for three years before she met her current partner, who persuaded her to use heroin. She described her current situation as “extremely stressful” and was afraid her partner would “do something hurtful” if she ever leaves.
After listening to her story and with her consent, Inzucchi connected her with a domestic violence support agency. He suggested several options to help her and her school aged child out of a potentially violent situation, which the client was open to.
Word has circulated within the community that someone from New Britain EMS will help clients to navigate through barriers and get the services they need.
“I think gaining their trust is the hardest part, the rest is just taking it step by step,” Inzucchi said. “It’s my job to listen. That’s what I enjoy doing. I’m not here to force them into anything. I’m here to listen to what they have to say and then help them in whatever way they need.”
Due to regulations under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, names of the clients are withheld to ensure confidentiality.
Contact Catherine Shen at email@example.com