[Each month, the Addiction Legal Resource Team at Penn State’s Dickinson Law recognizes an exceptional individual for their contributions to the addiction treatment community. The individual recognized as Advocate of the Month for the month of February is Lt. Gov. Dr. Bethany Hall-Long, Lieutenant Governor of Delaware.  Lt. Gov. Hall-Long has served as Lieutenant Governor since January 2017. She currently serves as chair of the Delaware Behavioral Health Consortium, which was created to improve addiction and mental health in Delaware. Before her current position, she served at a state representative from 2002-2017, fellow for U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and postpartum and neo-natal nurse.  During her political career, she has continued to work as a nurse, professor, and community advocate. We are thankful for inspiration from our honored advocates and from Dickinson Law’s Inside Entrepreneurship Blog.]

By: Ryan Kingshill

Often, occupying a lofty governmental position involves a certain level of detachment. The intense obligations of the role may consume the official. Isolated in a bureaucratic bubble, executive officials can fail to directly observe and abate the issues they are working to solve. The official may lose their personal connection to their constituents.

Lieutenant Governor Dr. Bethany Hall-Long artfully avoids this trap. Her early career allowed her to witness the daily struggles encountered by individuals suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD). As Lieutenant Governor she continues to work directly with the vulnerable populations she strives to serve, strengthening her relationship with her community. Further, her direct involvement allows her to grasp the full scope of the issues facing Delaware. Specifically, Lt. Gov Hall-Long uses her ground level work to improve the lives of those suffering from Mental Health disorders and SUD in Delaware.

The thread of practical, ground level field work weaves its way through Lt. Gov. Hall-Long’s life and career. Even at a young age. Lt. Gov. Hall-Long told me she “always had a passion to help others.” She discovered her passion through experience-specifically, taking care of family members with health issues. This sparked an interest in nursing, leading to Lt. Gov. Hall-Long obtaining a degree in Nursing Administration from Thomas Jefferson University.

While working as a post-partum and neo-natal nurse, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long observed the real-world consequences of the systemic barriers afflicting her patients. She felt particularly moved by the plight of homeless and mentally ill veterans. Her observations fueled her desire to effectuate change, driving her to obtain a PhD in health policy and nursing administration from George Mason University.

However, Lt. Gov Hall Long’s direct community involvement did not stop during her graduate studies. She continued to work as a nurse, nurse advocate, and fellow for the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. When I asked why she continued to work so closely with the population while she started her political career, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long cited her mentor and advisor Dr. Hazel Johnson-Brown. Dr. Johnson-Brown encouraged Lt. Gov. Hall-Long to “Get to the table and not merely be on the outside.”

For Lt. Gov. Hall-Long, effective political leaders must “get to the table” by engaging in activities that directly assist their community. Direct involvement allows Lt. Gov. Hall-Long to see the full problem, speak to all stakeholders, and discover solutions.

Upon returning to Delaware, Dr. Hall-Long’s political career blossomed. After a setback in 2000, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long served from 2002-2017 in the Delaware legislature in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, serving as the chair of the Health and Social Services Committee from 2013-2015. In January 2017, Dr. Hall-Long was sworn in as Lieutenant Governor.

Dr. Hall-Long’s political advancement did not stop her direct community action. Remarkably, as both a member of the Delaware Legislature and Lieutenant Governor, Dr. Hall-Long continued as a member of the University of Delaware Nursing Faculty. As a professor of over twenty years, her research focuses on the populations she vowed to serve as a nurse, including pregnant teens, homeless, and individuals suffering from mental illness and SUD.

I asked Lt. Gov. Hall-Long why she continues to work as a professor despite her responsibilities as Lieutenant Governor. To answer, she described some of her work. As part of her field research, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long distributed naloxone in a homeless encampment in the woods near University of Delaware. Seeing the realities of the opioid crisis keeps her “grounded and real.” She explained her work “allows me to be in the field and keep in touch with people on the ground.” Additionally, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long’s academic work allows her to be “at the table” by listening to problems faced by the homeless at the encampment.

Our conversation naturally pivoted to the work Lt. Gov. Hall-Long has engaged in as Lieutenant Governor to mitigate the problems she witnessed. Lt. Gov. Hall-Long’s premier achievement is her work as chair of the Delaware Behavioral Health Consortium. The Consortium brought together physicians, addiction specialists, community advocates, healthcare professionals, community members and more to formulate an action plan to tackle the Behavioral Health Crisis in Delaware. Lt. Gov Hall-Long, who was integral in creating the Consortium, emphasized the importance of “including all stakeholders” in creating a plan of action. Lt. Gov. Hall-Long stated the goal of the Consortium is three-fold: “First, to save lives; second, to promote sustainable recovery; third, to promote transition back into the workforce.”

The Consortium created an action plan with multiple recommendations to strengthen Delaware’s behavioral health system. Lt. Gov Hall-Long has helped implement many of these recommendations, along with other improvements.

Perhaps the most impactful improvement enacted as part of the Consortium’s work is Delaware’s overdose system of care, the first overdose system of care in the United States. The overdose system of care establishes stabilization centers that patients can go to after release from hospitals or first responders. The centers will provide immediate treatment following an overdose to prevent relapse and readmission. The system also encourages universal sharing of Health Information to prevent individuals from “falling through the cracks.”

Other improvements Lt. Gov. Hall-Long has championed include the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health partnering with Shatterproof to create a rehabilitation rating system, forming a mortality overdose taskforce, encouraging adoption of the ANGEL and HERO HELP programs for police and first responders to help the transition to treatment, partnering with pew charitable trusts to analyze Delaware’s current behavioral health system, and partnering with Google to increase access to addiction resources.

To choose which actions to pursue, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long again circles back to her direct field experience. As a nurse, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long learned how to be a “consensus builder”. By incorporating all stakeholders in the Consortium, including individuals encountered during Lt. Gov. Hall-Long’s field work, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long brings all interested parties together to produce a consensus that leads to the best outcomes. In Delaware, all stakeholders pointed back to the fractured behavioral health system- precisely what these reforms seek to address.

When I asked what Lt. Gov. Hall-Long is most proud of, she pointed to Delaware’s legislative and regulatory change during her term. Lt. Gov. Hall-Long hopes the Behavioral Health Consortium and Delaware’s other efforts can spark change across the nation. She hopes Delaware can be a “model to the nation” on how to tackle the opioid crisis.

Through a unique mixture of political action and practical field work, Lt. Gov. Hall-Long works to improve the lives of those suffering from SUD in Delaware. We at Dickinson Law’s Addiction Legal Resource Team are uplifted by her efforts, and we hope others will be encouraged to “get to the table” to discover innovative solutions for the opioid crisis.