My Time as an Emergency Department Recovery Coach

By Tom Russo

I served as a CCAR Emergency Department Recovery Coach (EDRC) for a little less than a year and in that relatively short time I saw more than 300 people. The work that CCAR’s Emergency Department Recovery Coaches do is vital and they fulfill a need. The program has been quite effective – in a two year span between 2017 and 2019 CCAR’s EDRC program worked with 3,615 individuals at 13 different hospitals. Those individuals assertively linked to care 92% of the time. While those two statistics are impressive, there is another product of this work that is unquantifiable and that is the love our coaches inject into the lives of the people they serve. The impact of the connections we as EDRC’s make in those dire moments is harder to measure but no less important.

It is a blessing to do this work – to be the person who is called when another person is asking for help. It was that opportunity to help in such a hands-on manner that drew me to the position in the first place. I know that many in the recovery community are attracted to this work. It is a great job. It is your goal as an EDRC to bring hope to people in what very well may be one of their worst moments. It is your goal to connect with them and make sure they know that there is someone present who understands their pain and will help them to leave that Emergency Department with a recovery plan.

There are glowing moments in Emergency Department Recovery Coaching. Those moments where your words and your attention visibly help someone who is hurting – where that person is thirsty for recovery and is asking for help and you are able to provide guidance. You will be able to aid an individual in a way that could change the trajectory of that life. There are those moments – and they occur often.

But it isn’t always like that. Some days can be quite hard.

This is a job that requires patience – deep reserves of patience. Even a person with extensive recovery experience can become frustrated with recoverees who they see over and over again, recoverees who seem to not want to work for their recovery but rather have it given to them. I must constantly remind myself of my own long road to recovery and all the detours I took along the way. We must be extremely patient and understanding with our recoverees, believing that recovery is always possible – for anyone.

Patience with recoverees is a necessity but what about patience with “the system”? Different treatment facilities are equipped at varying levels to meet the needs of recoverees. They all have their own requirements and processes for handling admissions and while many of them have similar processes some do have unique requirements that you must be aware of. Based on the individual you are working with, this can complicate the matter of finding placement. Placement can also be affected by insurance. My natural reaction is to feel that something so mundane as health insurance should have no place in decision-making surrounding an emergency situation – but it does. You will be faced with insurance policies that will limit the options of your recoverees and it is on you to help find the way around these barriers. It can be frustrating and stressful.

This is a job that requires you to pay serious attention to self-care. Compassion fatigue is a very real possibility. You do this work because you care but just how much of yourself will you give? I can say that every coach on our team has done work for their recoverees “off the clock”. But if you are the sort of person who wants to always be available, it can wear you down. One can be so driven to help that they are giving away more of themselves than there is to give.

And what of the days where you feel like you are just swimming against the tide? We’re there to coach but there will be days where you see multiple people all suffering in such a way they can hardly engage in coaching and just want to go to detox. But you must tell them there are no beds. It can be demoralizing for a coach to have to deliver this information, knowing that your recoveree will be discharged to the street or home. You just hope that you will be able to get ahold of them tomorrow to see if they are still willing and if you can help them find a bed. It is hard not to become attached to the outcome sometimes, these are emotional situations. You will see, hear, and smell human suffering. Still, you must focus on what it is you are there to do and conduct yourself accordingly.

A high level of professionalism is required. You will be welcomed as staff among the incredible people that work in these hospital Emergency Departments. How you conduct yourself and how you do your work could inform the opinions of those around you regarding recovery in general. As EDRC’s we are living proof that recovery is possible. We are living proof that human beings are not defined by the mistakes they make and that people are capable of change. This program’s success is a statement unto itself and its continuation rests largely on the integrity, hard work, and focus of our coaches. As an EDRC, you carry responsibility not only as a representative of a program that needs to be in every hospital, in every country – but also as a representative of the entire recovery community.

These are just some of the things one must consider to understand what it is to work as a CCAR Emergency Department Recovery Coach. My time as an EDRC is drawing to a close – I will take over a new position at CCAR as Communications Manager starting in August. My background is in Print Media and the opportunity to share CCAR’s message of hope on a large scale is exciting to me. I humbly move on to this new position knowing that it was my work as an EDRC that honed old skills  and gave me new ones. It has strengthened my recovery and my beliefs surrounding recovery. I am honored to have been part of the EDRC Team and, above all, I consider it a blessing to have been able to serve. It is deeply gratifying work; it is heartbreaking work.

It is work that asks a lot of you and gives a lot to you.

It is work that sometimes stays with you long after your shift ends. You are dealing in humanity, becoming a part of someone’s life, and offering a part of yourself to them so that they may get better.

This is about love. A genuine love for your fellow human being and a belief in their intrinsic potential. For if you love someone, you believe in them. And if you believe in them, they can believe in themselves.

12 thoughts on “My Time as an Emergency Department Recovery Coach”

  1. John O. Schwartz

    Beautifully and eloquently stated. God bless you and the entire EDRC team. It’s a pleasure to know you & I’m proud to count you among my friends.

  2. richard pacukonas

    Excellent article offering a view from the heart. With an attitude of positive realism in a profession that changes lives, only God knows how many family’s will begin to heal as the ripples of recovery flow through the community. CCAR is blessed to have ministers of hope and encouragement on the front lines. It will be interesting to see how Tom’s new ministry will help him evolve, and CCAR to disseminate countless stories of peace and purpose. Words are birds that bring good news to the eyes and the ears of those who seek.

  3. Tom,
    Thank you for putting such an inspiring and realistic perspective on the challenges faced by the people we serve as well as the people who serve. Well said!

  4. Mary Gotlibowski

    Dearest Tom,
    It has been an absolute pleasure working with you. Your commitment to our recoveries as well as the team has been exemplary. I wish you continued success in your new position.
    Always, Mary G

  5. Dear Tom- You remind all of us working in this field why we do this work and how important it is. Good luck in your next position at CCAR!

  6. Jennifer Arnold

    You genuinely care about others and it shows. It was beautiful to read this.
    Thank you for all that you do.

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