Liver clinic adds addiction and behavioral health staff

By Francie Williamson, Communications Coordinator, Department of Psychiatry

Addiction and behavioral health staff will soon be embedded in UI Hospitals & Clinic’s liver clinic.

Andrea Weber, MD, MME, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and internal medicine and assistant director of the UI Addiction and Recovery Collaborative, recently received a $1.125 million grant — to be dispersed over three years — from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to integrate a dedicated substance use counselor, case manager, and peer recovery specialist into the UI liver clinic.  This team will be focused on screening, treating, and providing recovery services to people with comorbid liver disease, substance use, and/or other mental health conditions.

“We will basically integrate addiction and behavioral health services into the liver clinic using both in-person services and telehealth services, with the hope more patients will recover from or decrease their substance use.  Achieving these recovery goals can increase recovery of liver function and hopefully mitigate the need for liver transplants,” Weber says. “We also plan to provide services after transplant, so patients can continue to achieve success and recovery after the procedure.”

Jody Jones, PhD, clinical associate professor in the Department of Surgery, works with liver transplant patients and says the addition of behavioral health staff in the clinic will be “immensely important.”

“We have seen an uptick of alcohol-related liver disease in the state since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and worryingly, very young people (teens, 20s, 30s) are developing signs of liver failure that we used to see much more commonly in people in their 50s and 60s,” Jones says. “These are patients who have the capacity to live long, productive lives if they can make appropriate lifestyle changes and achieve some recovery of liver function. The interventions funded by this grant will hopefully help many people get healthy again.”

Jones also says behavioral health providers can provide interventions that help patients find more adaptive ways of coping with life stressors, so they are less likely to rely on things like alcohol or other substances to cope.

“Behavioral health providers provide education for making healthier choices; support and guidance in processing difficult and challenging events; and encouragement and reinforcement for making healthy lifestyle changes,” Jones says.

Since UI’s liver clinic provides a lot of services to people in rural areas, Weber says the utilization of telehealth will be key.

“The persistent silver lining of the COVID-19 pandemic was we really increased telehealth services, and it bolstered the infrastructure that’s in place, so we can provide treatment and case management to people who live in all of the rural corners of the state,” Weber says.

Jones agrees.

“We live in a state with a large rural population where access to substance treatment is difficult or essentially absent,” Jones says. “Now we will have the capacity to provide telemedicine counseling and support services to patients who do not have local resources.”

Friday, October 21, 2022