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HOPS program at Sanford ER offers immediate help for those battling substance abuse

On average, Sanford sees 110 patients a month in the Emergency Department with substance abuse issues.

Members of the HOPS team at the Sanford Health Emergency Department.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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FARGO — For many going through a crisis, it's often good to talk with someone who's been through the same situation. For years, emergency departments have struggled with how to treat those coming in with a drug or alcohol abuse crisis.

But in Fargo-Moorhead, a pilot project is becoming a game changer.

Along with doctor and nurses, there are now peer support specialists coming into the emergency room.

The new Hospitals Offering Peer Supports (HOPS) program centers on those coming into the Sanford Health Emergency Department who are dealing with an alcohol or drug abuse crisis. An entire team now is activated.

"(It) always starts with a conversation," said Angela Blackford, a Sanford Health social worker, and member of the HOPS team. "I will go into a patient's room, and we will talk and see where they are at and what they need, and sometimes, they don't know where to start."


The HOPS team has everyone from social workers and case managers, to a new non-profit in Moorhead called Lotus. It's a harm reduction and recovery center which provides peer specialists, like Kyle Christianson to the ER, who himself has walked in the shoes of someone battling substance abuse.

"I am a person in long-term recovery," Christianson said. "We need to know our resources very well, because we are the connector for the individuals that are here in the room. We need to find out what they need."

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In the emergency room, patients in crisis are given this option. The HOPS team can get them connected to resources and help within minutes of leaving the ER.

"If they're not ready for treatment at a facility, and that just seems overwhelming to them, here we can actually connect them with someone who's ready to support them, and be that support, and help provide someone to kind of walk that same path with (them) who has walked it before. They have that lived experience," said Ali Bergquist, manager of Ambulatory Care Management at Sanford Health.

"The window of opportunity is very small, so we try to reach them while they're still in active crisis mode and try to come up with an action plan for when they are released from this room," Christianson said.

Peers specialists like Christianson can be paged to the ER in minutes.

"What a peer support does is for someone in crisis, they see living proof that recovery is real (and) that it works," said HOPS program manager Peter Hinderlie.

So far 22 men and women who have arrived at the Sanford ER agreed to the HOPS program, including a young woman who is now in treatment thanks to Christianson and this new team approach.


"Recovery is real and it is possible," he said.

On average, Sanford sees 110 patients a month in the Emergency Department with substance abuse issues. There is no charge for the HOPS Program.

For more info, call 218-422-7236.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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