HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Highland has launched a substance abuse, treatment and recovery program, provided in conjunction with Gateway Foundation, available to patients in the emergency department as well as throughout the hospital. Gateway Foundation is the largest nonprofit provider of substance use disorder treatment in the U.S. with its largest footprint in Illinois and has been providing life-saving treatment for over 50 years. In addition, Gateway has been engaged in a statewide program with hospitals and health systems over the last few years.

The program focuses on warm handoff services for the treatment and recovery of patients who present with substance use disorder. A team of experienced individuals work to identify, screen and transition patients from the emergency department or inpatient unit directly to a treatment bed upon discharge as needed. The program’s focus is to intercept those in crisis and shepherd them to care.

The team consists of a certified addictions counselor to perform intake screenings and assessments to determine appropriate level of need and program placement. The counselor is in regular contact with referral sources to help resolve potential barriers to effective treatment. Additionally, a staff person with lived experience is on the team to provide support and outreach, help with appropriate coping skills, and serve as a role model and partner for long-term stable personal recovery.

Michele Wasser, engagement specialist with Gateway Foundation and located at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital Highland, provides the warm handoff for those who present to the emergency department or are on an inpatient unit with substance abuse issues. Wasser explained, “As an engagement specialist, my role is to assess patients for substance abuse. I can offer on-site education about how their drugs and/or alcohol affect their medical condition. In more critical situations, I can refer clients to rehab facilities or residential programs before they leave the hospital, if needed. I can even provide transportation directly to the facility to make more of a seamless transition for them.”

Teresa Cornelius, chief nursing officer at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital, shared how the partnership between St. Joseph’s and the Gateway Foundation reduces health care disparities for those with substance abuse disorders while allowing them the dignity of obtaining the treatment they want and need. “Prior to this partnership, patients who presented to the hospital with substance abuse disorders were often discharged with phone numbers or websites to follow up on their own. They would then face the barriers of either not having the funds, transportation or support to get the help they need, or they would not be able to find appropriate treatment from the resources provided,” she shared. “Now our engagement specialist Michele has the resources and expertise to mitigate many of the barriers to care faced by those with substance abuse disorders. She is on site to provide help in real-time and can speak with patients about their options, answer their questions and provide direct support in reaching treatment, helping us provide the best care possible for our patients.”

Kimberly Luz, division director of community outreach for HSHS Illinois hospitals, shared, “We have seen a tremendous increase in substance use across our Illinois ministries. This partnership allows us to engage with our patients presenting with substance use disorder and connect them with critical care in a timely manner. The warm handoff services are truly an extension of our Mission in action as we address and overcome barriers to ongoing treatment and recovery.”

Dr. Teresa Garate, senior vice president at Gateway Foundation, has led the expansion of this program statewide. She shared, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported over 105,000 overdose deaths in the U.S. last year – this is the highest number ever at a time when the global pandemic has taken over everyone’s attention. We must not forget that this companion crisis continued to be the leading cause of accidental death for people under the age of 50. The only way to address the growing problem of addiction and overdose is to join forces with partners across the state, including our hospital and health system colleagues,” said Dr. Garate. “We are grateful to be able to do this work in collaboration with HSHS leadership and will continue to look for opportunities to grow so that we can identify people in need and get them into treatment.”

This program is also available in all other HSHS Illinois hospitals: St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in O’Fallon, St. Mary’s Hospital in Decatur, St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham, St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese, Holy Family Hospital in Greenville and Good Shepherd Hospital in Shelbyville.

Media Contact

Ashley Gramann


HSHS Illinois
Office: 618-651-2588 or x12588
Ashley.Gramann@hshs.org

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