DHSS to Expand Community Well-Being Initiative to Kent County

Goal is to Connect At-Risk Community Members to Substance Use Disorder Services

WILMINGTON (Sept. 19, 2022) – As a way to directly connect community members struggling with opioid use disorder and other behavioral health issues to treatment, recovery and prevention services, the Community Well-Being Initiative (CWBI), which began in 2021 in high-risk areas of New Castle County, will be expanded to serve targeted neighborhoods in Kent County in collaboration with Delaware State University, Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) Secretary Molly Magarik announced today at a press conference at the Chase Center.

“This is about meeting communities where they are and offering on-the-ground support to neighborhood residents who have been significantly impacted by the opioid epidemic in our state,” Secretary Magarik said. “It is important that we are expanding the Community Well-Being Initiative to Kent County to help address the trauma and toxic stress that community members there experience as well. From the success of the New Castle County pilot, we have seen how important it is for Community Well-being Ambassadors to have lived experience and to reside in the areas they serve.”

The initiative, a partnership between the Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) and the University of Delaware’s Partnership for Health Communities, began in 2021 by identifying four ZIP codes in New Castle County – 19801, 19802 and 19805 in Wilmington and 19720 in New Castle – with high rates of fatal and non-fatal overdoses, and high rates of drug arrests. The initiative is funded through the Delaware State Opioid Response (SOR) grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

In the pilot, 24 Community Well-being Ambassadors, who were hired by the nonprofit Network Connect and embedded in the neighborhoods, worked to identify and engage with individuals and families who typically do not seek formal treatment and recovery services for opioid and other substance use disorders. By meeting people where they are, the ambassadors, who work through host sites in the community, were able to build trust with community members. From May 2021 to March 2022, 450 community members engaged with ambassadors, for a total of 2,522 total interactions, including:

  • Engaging people with behavioral health needs when they were ready to engage.
  • Improving coordination across referrals and access to additional social services, including employment, housing and transportation.
  • Providing prevention education and care management for opioid and other substance use disorders, along with support for mental, physical, social and spiritual well-being.
  • Preparing person-centered, peer-supported, long-term treatment support for individuals, families and communities.
  • Building prepared and resilient communities.

The expansion to Kent County will involve Delaware State University as the managing partner of the initiative, along with DSAMH and UD’s Partnership for Healthy Communities. Additional Kent County partners, include Network Connect, Minds in Motion Integrated Behavioral Health, the Center for Structural Equity/Community Intervention Team, GBA Consulting, and the host sites:

  • Delaware Multi-Cultural Civic Organization
  • DSU Biomedical, Behavioral and Allied Health Center
  • DSU-Downtown
  • Two additional sites (pending)

“Delaware State University is elated to be a managing partner for such a phenomenal initiative. The Community Well-being Initiative aligns with our university’s core values and mission,” said Dr. Gwendolyn Scott-Jones, Dean of DSU’s Wesley College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. “This behavioral health integration and 21st-century case management model of service delivery executed by Network Connect is a monumental approach to addressing health disparities, psychological crises, substance-related disorders, mental health disorders and identifying social determinants that can help us better understand and improve health inequities. More specifically, the partnership with DSAMH, UD, Network Connect and other community partners is a way forward to provide a service integration model that will help people in their environments.”

“We are grateful to Delaware State University for being the managing partner of the Community Well-being Initiative in Kent County,” said Rita Landgraf, Director of the University of Delaware’s Partnership for Healthy Communities. “The strength of the Community Well-being Initiative is about the diversity of partners coming together, including the communities themselves, to support residents and families who aren’t used to seeking treatment for substance use disorder. The value of promoting health equity is critical to both UD and DSU, as is the experience of being an innovation incubator, piloting new ideas, evaluating how projects work, and learning what will provide that collective impact in our communities.”

The expansion in Kent County will involve ZIP codes – 19901, 19902, 19904 and 19934 – that have high rates of fatal and non-fatal overdoses and high rates of drug arrests. The initiative, which began with Network Connect hiring staff in August 2022, will launch this fall in the communities and be staffed by 16 Community Well-being Ambassadors (CWA) and two CWA Program Coordinators.

“At DSAMH, we are excited to collaborate with so many community partners, including DSU, to embed ambassadors in these at-risk neighborhoods in Kent County,” said Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) Director Joanna Champney. “The Community Well-being Ambassadors have lived experience and provide support directly to community members in their communities. They help individuals and families identify their most pressing needs, provide relevant information, and develop strategies for addressing those needs, including a connection to behavioral health and other community services and ongoing support. Ambassadors also are trained in administering naloxone, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose, and they distribute naloxone and other critical overdose prevention knowledge in the communities where they work.”

In the continuing New Castle County pilot, the 24 Community Well-being Ambassadors and two CWA Program Coordinators are embedded in neighborhoods and integrated with these host sites:

  • Center for Structural Equity
  • Game Changers
  • Hilltop Lutheran Neighborhood Center
  • Network Connect
  • West End Neighborhood House
  • Youth Empowerment Center

Lt. Governor Bethany Hall-Long, Chair of the Behavioral Health Consortium, said the Community Well-being Initiative and the Ambassador program are helping to facilitate two of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) goals under the State Opioid Response grants: to expand opioid use disorder/stimulant use disorder treatment engagement strategies and reduce barriers to accessing treatment, as well as to create a greater strategic focus on racial and ethnic populations in SAMHSA’s investments.

“As we saw in the targeted outreach in New Castle County and now in the expansion into Kent County, the Community Well-being Initiative is about promoting equity,” Lt. Governor Hall-Long said. “In order to encourage more community residents to seek treatment for substance use disorder, we need to have Community Well-being Ambassadors who live in the communities, collaborating with trusted community partners and building trust with the people they serve. This is another important way that we are building a stronger and healthier Delaware for more of our residents.”

“Our ambassadors really focus on everyday life skills,” said Cierra Hall-Hipkins, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Network Connect. “They have people come to them with real-life situations that they, too, experienced themselves and they are able to be peer connectors – life coaches, so to speak – for everyday folks in our community. It’s a game-changer.”

In 2021, Delaware reported 515 overdose deaths, an increase of more than 15% over 2020, according to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science (DFS). In Kent County, overdose deaths increased 74% from 50 in 2020 to 87 in 2021. DFS also reported that 425 of the 515 deaths involved fentanyl, a synthetic pain reliever that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine.