As quickly as donated boots and winter jackets reach the hands of needy patients at the Massachusetts General Hospital Bridge Clinic, they are replenished through the efforts of a grateful mother whose son was successfully treated for opioid use disorder by the clinic’s compassionate team.
A primary goal of the Bridge Clinic is to meet people where they are in the process of recovery.
“The Bridge Clinic is a very special place because it has a new approach,” says Wendy Morrissey of Watertown, Mass. Her son, Billy Morrissey, began using drugs at age 17, dropped out of school and left home after family tensions became unbearable. Pills progressed to heroin and Wendy did not see her son for two years.
A Flexible Approach
Founded in 2016 as part of Mass General’s Substance Use Disorder (SUD) Initiative, the Bridge Clinic uses an innovative, immediate-access, flexible approach, accepting patients with substance use disorders at any stage or severity of illness. The care team offers medication management, stabilization, medical care and peer support tailored to an individual’s preferences and needs.
“A primary goal of the Bridge Clinic is to meet people where they are in order to engage them in care immediately and work with them to lower their risk of negative consequences of ongoing substance use,” says Medical Director Laura Kehoe, MD, MPH. “By starting where they feel most comfortable, as opposed to mandating a highly structured program that they may not be able to attain especially early on when addiction is active, we gain their trust and help to move them along in the recovery process.”
For Billy, now age 23, the flexible approach came as a relief.
Recalling his early drug use, Billy says, “I thought I was just having a good time with my buddies. But before I even knew what addiction was, I was addicted.” During the years he was away from home, he tried and failed to complete a series of recovery programs with strict rules. Finally, he told his mother he wanted to move home and try again. But he wanted to do it his way.
A Mother’s Pain Paves a Way
By that time, Wendy, a professional paralegal with a dimpled smile, knew to steer him toward the Bridge Clinic where compassion and flexibility prevail. She had met Dr. Kehoe after she became involved in volunteer work following the death of her brother from an opioid overdose. She knew she didn’t want Billy to suffer the same fate.
The Bridge Clinic, which has nearly doubled in size since it opened in 2016, was a good fit for Billy, who wanted to work during the day rather than sit with support groups. He moved back into his mother’s house, began visiting the Bridge Clinic and worked to stop using drugs. As he recovered, he completed his high school degree and took a job with his stepfather’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning business.
Treating Opioid Use Disorder
After meeting with Dr. Kehoe and hearing about his options, Billy expressed a preference for naltrexone, a medication designed to block the effects of opioids and prevent ongoing drug use. Dr. Kehoe prescribed the medication to help Billy maintain his recovery. Also, while the Bridge Clinic offers support groups and individual counseling, Billy chose to meet one-on-one with Dr. Kehoe and peer counselors.
Thanks to Wendy, the shelves and drawers of the Bridge Clinic clinic brim with boots, hats, gloves, jackets, backpacks and other necessities.
“He’s a very bright young man who has this great connection with his family,” Dr. Kehoe says. “He’s worked hard to learn about opioid use disorder as an illness that requires treatment and support.”
Wendy, initially angry and confused about Billy’s addiction, changed her approach as she got involved in the recovery community and sought education and guidance from Dr. Kehoe and others. As she learned about addiction as a treatable, chronic, relapsing illness she began reaching out and trying to support people with substance use disorders and their families.
She started working with a dedicated group of 15 women organized around a Facebook community to collect and distribute clothing and other goods to homeless people in the Boston area, many of whom have substance use disorders. The group became her solace and her strength.
Boots Hit the Ground
With her son’s improving health and recovery with the support of the Bridge Clinic, Wendy turned her generous attention on the clinic, making regular deliveries of goods donated by companies and individuals.
Thanks to Wendy, the shelves and drawers of the newly expanded clinic now brim with boots, hats, gloves, jackets, backpacks and other necessities. These items are often desperately needed by patients with opioid use disorder and other substance use disorders, some of whom are homeless.
“Every opportunity we have to engage someone is a win,” Dr. Kehoe says. “These items can be a source of dignity for our patients and can help keep them returning to the clinic to continue on their path to recovery.”
Billy’s youthful good looks and quiet demeanor mask his years of struggle. He has been sober for more than a year. “This place is different from all the other places where it’s all or nothing,” he says. Billy visits the clinic once every two weeks, and continues to work full time at the HVAC company.
Asked about his future, the young man who, not long ago couldn’t think beyond his next round of drugs, has plans and dreams: to get trained as an emergency medical technician and then pursue a career as a firefighter.
“The Bridge Clinic was absolutely the right place for him,” Wendy concludes.
To learn more about the Bridge Clinic or to make a donation, please contact us.