St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus in Allentown celebrated the opening of the region’s most advanced detoxification unit with a virtual ribbon-cutting. At a time when serious drug use and overdoses in the area are alarmingly high, this Level IV facility will provide 24-hour medical supervision to people withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs.
Level IV is the top designation from the American Society of Addiction Medicine, reserved for detoxification facilities that offer the most specialized care for people suffering from substance use disorders.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2019, of which almost 4,500 were Pennsylvanians. Detoxification, or withdrawal management, is considered the first step toward recovery from substance use disorders. Patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or heart conditions, can suffer serious or potentially life-threatening side effects during withdrawal, such as hallucinations, high fevers, dangerously high blood pressure or even seizures.
Physicians, advanced practitioners, registered nurses, patient care assistants and dietitians will be on duty in the unit to treat medical issues or co-existing disorders that could be exacerbated during withdrawal.
“With the addition of this highly specialized medical detoxification unit, St. Luke’s Sacred Heart will rank among Pennsylvania’s leading behavioral health service providers,” said St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus President Frank Ford. Only three other medical detox units are located in Eastern Pennsylvania, but the St. Luke’s Sacred Heart facility is the only one in the greater Lehigh Valley region.
Ford said that inspiration for the unit arose from conversations with downtown residents, stakeholders and leaders: “We asked our neighbors how St. Luke’s Sacred Heart could help the community – and we listened. Withdrawal management is an incredibly important service that is in keeping with St. Luke’s Sacred Heart’s longstanding Catholic tradition of caring those who are in need of all types of care – not only for the people of the Allentown community, but for so many in the Lehigh Valley and eastern Pennsylvania.”
According to Christina Zelko-Bennick, St. Luke’s Vice President of Patient Care Services at Sacred Heart and Network Inpatient Behavioral Health, transportation can be a barrier to accessing this high-level of lifechanging care.
“Within the Lehigh Valley and eastern Pennsylvania, many people were driving two or even three hours or longer to find a true detox facility that could manage chronic illnesses while helping them manage their withdrawal symptoms. This Level IV unit meets this need for the community,” she said. “Now St. Luke’s Sacred Heart will be able to provide the highest level of medical withdrawal management services in the region, allowing a patient to detox and become medically stable before transitioning to the next appropriate level of care for recovery.”
Medical Director Thomas Nappe, DO, said, “The Medical Detox Unit is staffed by physicians who are board certified in Addiction Medicine, Medical Toxicology and Emergency Medicine. Our highly skilled, fellowship-trained physicians exercise current, evidence-based practices to medically manage withdrawal in the most effective, comfortable and expeditious way possible, while also treating additional underlying or complicating medical issues.”
In addition to the specialists who treat the medical symptoms of withdrawal, the unit will be staffed by substance use disorder experts to oversee the detox process, begin personalized counseling and plan follow-up care that may include residential or outpatient treatment facilities.
The detox unit, featuring 16 private rooms in a calming setting, is for adults age 18 and older. Typically, patients will be referred to the unit through assessments drug and alcohol crisis staff in an emergency room.