Ignite Magazine | Spring 2021

Page 10

FEATURE

It is not a crime to have a mental illness,” says Ruth H. Simera, M.Ed., LSW, who serves as executive director of Northeast Ohio Medical University’s Coordinating Centers of Excellence. “Our Criminal Justice Coordinating Center of Excellence

ly exposed myself to HIV-contaminated blood. As a relative newlywed and Air Force Officer with a medical career ahead of me, my whole world had instantly changed.

You became the patient. (CJ CCoE) identifies the best mental health practices I had to see an internist and an infectious disease doctor and to successfully divert people with mental illness from the go under an observation protocriminal justice system and to get them treatment.” col for the next several years. I had to be tested every six months for HIV and hepatitis. CJ CCoE of Ohio, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, combines with Fortunately, all tests were the Ohio Program for Campus Safety and Mental Health and with the Best Practices negative. And while none of in Schizophrenia Treatment (BeST) Center to comprise the Coordinating Centers the protocols changed immeof Excellence in the University’s Department of Psychiatry. diately following that incident, eventually — as other incidents occurred — protocols around needles and how you handle Randon S. Welton, M.D., The Margaret Clark Morgan Chair of Psychiatry them did change. at NEOMED, will help helm a NEOMED opioid use disorder clinic as part of the University’s new integrated primary and mental health care services set to roll out Did you have any experiences with through the next year. Dr. Welton’s own experience as a young physician in the 80’s patients addicted to crack cocaine and his work now with the Coordinating Centers of Excellence at NEOMED gives during that time? him a unique understanding of what happens when epidemics collide. Walter Reed is a military hospital, so How has medical treatment and and took all necessary precautions. Our there are limits on what patients are willprocedure was to take the blood from the ing to discuss. At the time, admitting to teaching changed from the height of the crack cocaine and AIDS epidemics patient and put it in separate vials so that drug use or homosexual activity could blood cultures could be drawn to check cause serious administrative problems, so to the current opioid use epidemic for bacteria. So, I did it, but as I was on no one would talk about those things. The and COVID-19 pandemic? I had a fairly frightening experience the HIV unit, there was some heightened acceptable standard response was that you visited a prostitute one time, and that was that highlights the differences between anxiety. what we’re doing today compared with 30 I drew blood from the patient with no how you contracted HIV. I heard that years ago. When the COVID-19 virus first problem, then I had to transfer the blood story countless times. No one on those hit last year, medical students were taken to the vials. When you do that you have wards at that time was talking about crack. After leaving the military I worked at out of hospitals for fear that they would to change the needle between each vial so an addiction recovery center for women. be exposed to the virus. In 1987, when there’s no contamination. As I was pulling HIV was getting big, I was a medical stu- the needle out of its sheath, it got stuck, Because of their addiction, some would dent on an internal medicine rotation. My so I pulled it especially hard. As the needle sell themselves for drugs. As a result, many team helped cover the HIV ward at Wal- jerked out, I reflexively brought my hands contracted hepatitis or HIV. (So-called back together. Upon doing so I drove the “crack babies” resulted as well.) Unfortuter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. I had a patient with HIV who had a needle into my left thumbnail. There was nately, for a very long time when you treatfever. Our standard fever protocol was to enough force that it went through my ed someone for HIV, you didn’t treat them draw blood to see if patients had sepsis. I fingernail and into my thumb. I started for addiction — that was considered somegowned up, put on my mask and gloves bleeding and realized that I had potential- one else’s job. You treated one problem or

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