UVM’s Comprehensive Pain Program

 In Health

Integrative health care. A concept that has only recently been adopted in Western Medicine. What is integrative health care (IHC)? It is the practice of “applying coordinated care among different providers (and maybe different institutions) in conventional and complementary approaches to care for the whole person,” as described by our Community Educator, Ada Puches. 

Heather Hayes, a CPP alumni

The most common qualifying condition for the Medical Program at our dispensaries is chronic pain. A forward-thinking way to treat the condition is through IHC, and we feel fortunate to have an option for it here in our brave little state. The University of Vermont Medical Center invites patients who have chronic pain lasting for three months or longer to participate in their Comprehensive Pain Program (CPP), which is informed by the latest science on IHC and “brings together modern medicine and evidence-based complementary and alternative therapies.” (uvmhealth.org)

One of those offerings includes an informative class on medical cannabis and guidance on its use. 

Heather Hayes, a CPP alumni, says that the program led her towards “deep acceptance around living with chronic pain” and helped her find a new way to “seek and experience happiness with my limitations.” She shared that “the weekly group therapy with others living with chronic pain, and the EMDR sessions I participated in was the key that truly unlocked my recovery with my mental health and enabled my physical strength to step forward.”

How does the CPP work? 

First, you must be referred to the program by your Primary Care Physician (affiliated with the UVM network). We’ll talk about how you can have that conversation later on in this blog.

The CPP is not for individuals who are actively in need of alcohol or substance abuse treatment. Instead, the program is designed for patients who are experiencing or have the potential of experiencing a lesser quality of life due to chronic pain and are interested in learning “alternative” techniques to treat the condition. The program has two support group offerings, PATH (Partners Aligned in Transformative Healing) and COMPASS (Continuing On My Path And Strengthening my Story). Through weekly meetings with your group, you will learn about things like Medical Cannabis, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), Acupuncture, Massage Therapy, Movement classes (Yoga, Tai Chi etc.), Nutrition, Occupational and Physical Therapy, and Reiki. You then have the additional option to have one-on-one appointments with health care providers on any topic you are interested in exploring on your own.

The thought of sharing pain and uncomfortable truths in group therapy might be overwhelming, but if you lean into it, relating with like individuals can be incredibly rewarding and helpful. “The most valuable thing I have learned in my own journey with Chronic Pain is the importance of connecting with others who are going through the same thing I am. Some of my closest friends are Spoonies (people with disability or chronic illness), and we have the best relationships because we truly understand what one another is going through on a very deep and personal level – one that no one else can really comprehend,” says Keilani Lime, our Marketing Program Manager and CPP alumni. 

Hayes adds, “I cannot put into words the importance of being believed by doctors and the gift of others holding authentic space for your pain and suffering as well as your goals and dreams…the Compass program was a safe space, created by understanding professionals and fellow fighters like myself, simply seeking peace. To be witnessed, held, supported and encouraged by strangers I had never met, and it required no need for proof or explanation, was incredibly healing and felt so simple and pure.”

Does my health insurance cover the cost of the program? 

You will be grouped (either PATH or COMPASS) depending on your insurance. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont worked with CPP to develop special coverage for the program. You will be able to get insurance coverage for therapies typically not covered by insurance like acupuncture. For all others, if you have Cigna or MVP, for example, the health care providers will bill the insurance for the group therapy sessions and appointments – anything not covered by insurance will be an out-of-pocket expense. Financial assistance or sliding-scale options may also exist.

How do I get the time off to participate? What is the time commitment for the CPP?

Because offerings in the CPP are considered medical appointments, you should qualify for coverage if you are eligible for FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) at your place of employment. The commitment for the program is 12 weeks, where you will be meeting at the same time once a week for 1.5 hour-long group therapy sessions. In addition, there are hour-long classes (cooking/nutrition or yoga) at various times weekly throughout the program, and individual appointments for specific therapies/visits are generally an hour long. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the program is being held virtually at this time. If you are able, we strongly encourage you to talk to your employer’s HR department to help get the time off approved and ask about FMLA.

If you are interested in participating in the CPP, your first step is to talk with your primary health care provider. Feel free to inform them you heard about the program through CeresMED. We are not sponsors of the program but are proud to support the program’s mission and are thankful that Medical Cannabis is a part of the curriculum. On a daily basis, we hear the success stories of our patients using medical cannabis to relieve chronic pain.

This program has helped many people, and we want to spread the word of its existence to see it help even more. Heather sums it up nicely: “I will cherish forever the group we created. It was an honor and eye-opening to do such important work with ‘My People.’ I pray this program continues to grow and gain the support of the medical industry because it helped me at such a desperate time in my life. And if you are reading this, never give up, and try to find your people. You deserve it.”

Some final thoughts from our South Burlington dispensary manager, Nat Williams. “In our patient base, Medical Cannabis proves to be incredibly effective for relieving chronic pain. It reduces the experience of pain enough to allow them to focus on other aspects of life without making them feel numb. Many patients say that it feels like they ‘got their life back’ because they can return to enjoying their daily activities.”

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