Category: CurrentNews

Opioid Addiction and Overdose Prevention

In our journey towards better health and well-being, managing chronic pain can often be a significant challenge. Whether it’s stemming from a medical condition, injury, or other factors, chronic pain can greatly impact our daily lives. At Unity Care NW, we understand the complexities of chronic pain management and the risks associated with opioid therapy. That’s why we’re committed to providing you with comprehensive support and information to empower you in your health journey.

Whatcom County Overdose facts

The opioid crisis has deeply impacted communities in Northwest Washington and across the United States. In 2022, Washington state experienced a significant increase in drug overdose deaths, with overdose deaths in Whatcom County surpassing the statewide average. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the crisis by increasing factors like anxiety and social isolation, leading to more drug use and exacerbating the epidemic. Whatcom County Emergency Medical Services receives an average of 3 to 4 overdose calls per day.[1] It is crucial that the public be aware of what opioids are and how to prevent addiction and overdose in themselves and in their loved ones.

A chart showing Whatcom County opioid deaths exceeding the state average for the first time in 2022.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      [2]


What is an Opioid?
Natural, synthetic, or semi-synthetic chemicals that interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain, and reduce the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain. This class of drugs includes the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain medications available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others. Prescription opioids are generally safe when taken for a short time and as directed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused and can lead to addiction.

Pain Management

Physical pain is a complex sensation that serves as a signal from the body to the brain, indicating injury or potential harm. It can manifest as aches, throbbing, sharp sensations, or discomfort in various parts of the body. While pain is a natural and often necessary response to protect ourselves from further injury, managing physical pain is an important part of promoting overall well-being and maintaining functional abilities. [3]

Pain management can be done in many ways that do not include opioids. Examples include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Nonopioid medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) including UCNW’s Wellness Skills Group for Chronic Pain
  • Certain antidepressant and antiseizure medications

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain lasting three months or more.  It can be caused by a disease or condition, injury, medical treatment, inflammation, or even an unknown reason. There are many possible options to treat your chronic pain. You and your doctor should work together to establish treatment goals for pain and function in your daily life. Nonopioids treatments are recommended for first line treatment of most origins of chronic pain. Opioids should be used only when other options fail or conflict with other medical conditions or treatments.

If You Are Prescribed Opioids for Chronic Pain Management

  • Follow up with your doctor within the first few days of starting your prescription to ensure opioids are helping. You should also discuss:
    • What kind of pain relief and improvement you can expect overall. Opioids can reduce pain in the short-term but will not likely relieve all your pain.
    • Any side-effects you are experiencing.
  • Develop your personal pain management plan with your doctor which may include:
    • Your personal treatment goals, which describe what you may achieve as you make progress.
    • Information about treatment options.
    • Referral to specialists as needed.

Side Effects of Opioid Therapy

Prescription opioids carry serious risks of addiction and overdose. Opioids can slow a person’s breathing, often a sign associated with someone experiencing an opioid overdose that can cause death. The use of prescription opioids can have several side effects as well, even when taken as directed, including:

  • Tolerance — you might need to take more of a medication for the same pain relief
  • Physical dependence — you have symptoms of withdrawal when a medication is stopped, or you take less
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Sleepiness and dizziness

How to Spot an Opioid Overdose

Recognizing an opioid overdose can be difficult. If you aren’t sure, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose—you could save a life.

Signs of an overdose may include:

  • Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”
  • Falling asleep or loss of consciousness
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin


Carrying and knowing how to use Narcan (also known as Naloxone) can help you save someone from an opioid overdose. Narcan saves lives because it can quickly restore normal breathing to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing on prescription opioid medications, heroin, or drugs that are adulterated and contaminated with an opioid like fentanyl (e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine).

To assist a person with an expected opioid overdose:

  1. Call 911.
  2. Give Narcan if possible.
  3. Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
  4. Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  5. Do not leave the person alone while waiting for help to arrive.
  6. Naloxone is a temporary treatment. More than one dose might be needed under some circumstances, especially if an overdose event involves illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances.[4]


Where to Get Narcan

A prescription is not needed to obtain Narcan. Narcan is covered by many insurances and is available at pharmacies, including Unity Care NW’s in-house pharmacies in Bellingham and Ferndale. Speak to your pharmacist to see if your insurance covers Narcan.

Whatcom County provides Narcan to At-Risk individuals or family members, or involved bystanders of opioid related overdose through the Narcan Leave Behind Program.  Contact Steven Cohen, EMS Training Specialist, at 360-820-6157 or for information on Narcan Kits and training.

You can also request free Narcan to be delivered to your home online through the Washington State Naloxone Mail Order program.

Safe Medication Return at UCNWA person in a pastel sweater drops a prescription bottle into a large secure metal blue bin witha sign reading "Safely dispose of unwanted or unused medicines."

If you have unused or expired medications, including opioids, we offer a safe medication return program to ensure they are disposed of properly. Bring any medications you have to drop boxes at our pharmacies in either Bellingham or Ferndale to safely dispose of them. By participating in this program, you’re not only protecting your loved ones from potential harm but also contributing to environmentally responsible practices.




[2] The Opioid Crisis in Washington’s Second Congressional District and a Comprehensive Solution. January 2024. Rick Larsen.



You are Part of a Movement!

Advocates at the National Association of Community Health Center Policy and Issues Forum. Courtesy of NACHC. Washington D.C., 1977

Advocates at the National Association of Community Health Center Policy and Issues Forum. Courtesy of NACHC. Washington D.C., 1977

More than 40 years ago, Unity Care NW began treating people without access to health care and today we are proud to be one of over 1,400 Federally Qualified Health Centers serving nearly 1 in 10 Americans.

Community Health Centers were born out of the fight for civil rights and the war on poverty in the 1960s. These new health care providers empowered local communities through patient-majority governing boards, using a combination of local resources and federal funding. The National Association of Community Health Centers was later founded and played a crucial role in unifying and advocating for accessible, quality health care.

Our state and federal governments make important decisions that impact your care on a regular basis. Unity Care NW monitors legislation and advocates with our elected officials on behalf of your care but we need your help. As a patient, your voice matters! Sign up for our advocacy mailing list and play an active role in shaping healthcare policies. Receive important action alerts and make your self heard by our elected officials. Together, we can create positive change and ensure better healthcare outcomes for all.

Whatcom Community Foundation Empowers Youth While Supporting Whatcom

Everyone here thrives. That’s Whatcom Community Foundation’s vision. Achieving it means lifting community voices, investing in equity, and cultivating neighborliness. Being one of our Unity Care NW Health Care Champions is just one of the many ways they are a supporting a stronger and healthier community.
Join the 2024 Youth Philanthropy Team. Learn abut local issues. Make grants to help.Like all the 1,000+ community foundations across North America, the Whatcom Community Foundation is a charitable organization created through gifts from people who care about a particular place. Anyone can contribute any amount of money to a community foundation, which pools and builds assets to meet local needs.

One way the Community Foundation is meeting its goals is by empowering the next generation of philanthropists. The Whatcom Community Foundation Youth Philanthropy Program (YPP) was created for students to engage in experiential based learning opportunities that foster leadership, technical and critical thinking skills. YPP connects youth to the community through charitable giving.

This year the team will focus on learning about youth homelessness and youth mental health challenges that often exacerbate youth homelessness in Whatcom County and across the country. Students will focus their time and effort on the powerful impact of grant award making, educating the community about the YPP program, learning leadership skills, and bringing in new members for 2025.

2023 Youth Philanthropy Project Team of 15 young people standing together.

2023 Youth Philanthropy Project Team

In 2024, the YPP team will distribute $50,000 in grants ranging between $2,500 and $5,000 to nonprofit organizations, schools, Native American Tribes, and government agencies that address and work with children and youth (up to age 24) of all races and ethnicities in Whatcom County experiencing mental health challenges and youth homelessness.  Priority will be given to programs that engage youth in program design/delivery. Do you know a youth that would be interested in participating? Click here for more information and to apply.

Thank you Whatcom Community Foundation – for the many ways you support Unity Care NW and our community.

Don’t Lose Your Apple Health Insurance! We can help.

During COVID, nearly everyone who qualified for Apple Health insurance (Medicaid) was able to receive benefits without submitting an annual renewal.

Beginning April 2023, the Health Care Authority (HCA) Apple Health members will again have to renew their coverage annually.  Read on to learn more about Apple Health renewal to ensure you maintain your coverage (if eligible) during Apple Health enrollment.

How to Know if You Have Apple Health Insurance

Apple Health is the name for Medicaid in Washington. WA Apple Health is free or low-cost health insurance coverage for those who qualify. Everyone who has an Apple Health plan will have a Blue ProviderOne card like the one shown to the right. In almost all cases, the management of care for people with Apple Health insurance is delegated to a Managed Care Organization (MCO). There are five MCOs under WA Apple Health. They are Amerigroup Washington, Community Health Plan of Washington, Coordinated Care of Washington, Molina Healthcare of Washington, and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan. Your Apple Health could be through any of these MCOs and you may have been provided an additional insurance card.

What Does This Mean for Apple Health Users and Why is it Important?

Everyone using Apple Health insurance must submit information to renew their coverage. Apple Health users can only continue their coverage if they complete the Washington Apple Health renewal process on time and still qualify for Apple Health insurance.

Patients who do not take timely action before their WA Apple Health renewal period ends will lose their Apple Health coverage.

What Do Apple Health Plan Members Need to Do?

Update your contact information with the Health Care Authority. Renewal information and important notices about Apple Health coverage will go to the address on file with the HCA. Make sure your contact information is correct and up to date! The first step of your WA Apple Health renewal is to login to the Washington Health Plan Finder website and confirm your contact information or report a change in address. More information on how to report a change can be found on the HCA website.

Watch for Apple Health renewal information – and take action! WA Apple Health renewal information will arrive in your mailbox the month before your renewal date. For example, patients with a renewal date in May will receive a renewal notice in April and must complete the process before their renewal date. Remember that people who do not complete the renewal process on time will lose their Apple Health Coverage.

What if I No Longer Quality for Apple Health Insurance?                                             New Bellingham Office LocationA map with an arrow pointing to the location of the front entrance at 1616 Cornwall where Outreach & Enrollment offices in suite 107 can be accessed.

Patients who no longer qualify for Apple Health insurance can find an affordable plan through the  Health Plan Finder. We also offer a Sliding Fee Discount Program which lowers the cost of any services you receive not covered by your insurance. Eligibility is based on household size and income and our Enrolment Specialists can help you apply.

Need Help with Your Apple Health Renewal or Finding a New Health Plan?

Unity Care NW Enrollment Specialists can provide help with your WA Apple Health renewal or assist you with finding a new health plan  at two convenient locations!

If you need assistance navigating the renewal process, or if you need help figuring out how to apply for Apple Health or assistance, schedule an appointment with one of our Enrollment Specialists in Bellingham or Ferndale. These health plan experts can walk you through the system and help you find the right plan for your specific needs.

To schedule an appointment for help with your WA Apple Health renewal or another health plan, please contact us at (360) 788-2669 and speak to one of our Enrollment Specialists or click the button below and fill out the form.

Request an Appointment!


Unity Care NW Earns Gold Status for Advocacy Excellence

Unity Care NW (UCNW) is proud to announce that it has earned the Gold ACE status from the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). This is the highest level of recognition in the NACHC Advocacy Center of Excellence (ACE) Program, which supports and recognizes health centers that achieve specific measures of advocacy success and demonstrate an ongoing commitment to advocacy by making it an organizational priority.

UCNW is one of only three health centers in Washington to have achieved Gold ACE status. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff and leadership, who are committed to advocating for health equity and access to care for the patients we serve.

The ACE Program measures advocacy success in four areas:

  • Policy impact: The extent to which health centers have influenced policy changes that improve access to care for their patients.
  • Public awareness: The extent to which health centers have raised awareness of the importance of community health centers and the challenges they face.
  • Workforce development: The extent to which health centers have trained and supported staff to engage in advocacy.
  • Organizational capacity: The extent to which health centers have the infrastructure and resources to support advocacy efforts.

We are grateful to NACHC for this recognition of our advocacy efforts. We will continue to work hard to advocate for health equity and access to care for the patients we serve.

Quote from NACHC

“Earning Gold ACE status requires serious dedication and prioritization of advocacy at your health center. Your organization is now part of an elite group that serves as an example to other Community Health Centers striving to achieve advocacy excellence. The amount of effort and time needed to achieve this requires hardworking, engaged staff and supportive leadership—two pieces of the puzzle necessary for a successful and robust advocacy program—both of which you have demonstrated.”

How You Can Help

You can help UCNW continue its advocacy work by:

Thank you for your support!

Apple Health Facts 

A blue Services Card with the state of and seal of Washington in a darker blue

Everyone who has an Apple Health plan will have a Blue ProviderOne card like this one.

Apple Health is Washington state’s program through which people who are eligible can obtain free or low-cost health insurance. It is a vital means by which those who are traditionally overlooked or underserved can access critical health care without being overly cost-burdened. While many are familiar with the existence of Apple Health, not everyone is aware of or knowledgeable about the program and what it has to offer. Read our Washington Apple Health FAQ for general Apple Health facts and information. To learn more or to find out if you’re eligible for Apple Health, Unity Care has Enrollment Specialists standing by to help. 

What is Apple Health insurance? Is Washington Apple Health Medicaid?

Of all the questions we are routinely asked about Apple Health, these are the most common. Apple Health is, simply put, Washington state’s free or low-cost insurance program. And yes, Apple Health is indeed Medicaid and offers all of the coverages and protections that come with Medicaid. You may also occasionally hear Apple Health referred to by the name one of five Managed Care Organizations such as Molina or UnitedHealthcare Community Plan, but all of those exist under the umbrella of Apple Health (aka Medicaid).

How does Apple Health work?

As touched on by the previous question, Apple Health delegates care to five managed care organizations in Washington: Amerigroup Washington, Community Health Plan of Washington, Coordinated Care of Washington, Molina Healthcare of Washington, and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan. When you qualify for Apple Health, you will be issued a ProviderOne card and your care will be assigned to one of these MCOs, who may provide you with an additional insurance card. From there, using your Apple Health coverage is similar to that of any insurance company—you find an in-network care provider such as Unity Care, make an appointment and see your doctor or health care provider. 

How to qualify for Apple Health?

Washington Apple Health is an income-limited program. To qualify, an individual adult cannot be on Medicare and must have a monthly household income under 138 percent of the federal poverty line. Income limits are determined on an annual basis. Apple Health is open to adults ages 19-65, pregnant individuals, children, noncitizens, those in foster care and other underserved groups. A Unity Care Enrollment Specialist can help you determine your eligibility.

Which Apple Health plan is best?

As with standard insurance coverage, there is no “best” plan per se. Each Managed Care Organization offers its own features and benefits. Some offer plans that excel in providing pediatric care, while others are well-suited to those whose primary health goal is to prevent and manage illness. All operate under the oversight of the Washington State Health Care Authority. The best Apple Health plan is the one that’s right for you, your health and the health of your family. 

What does Apple Health cover?

Apple Health coverage is fairly comprehensive. Covered services include primary care, emergency visits, pediatric care, dental visits, maternity care, vision care, prescriptions and more. The goal of Apple Care is to help ensure that those under a certain income level can access the medical care they need. 

Does Apple Health cover dental? 

This is one of the most frequently asked questions about Apple Health and we understand why—according to the American Dental Association, there are an estimated 2 million visits to emergency rooms each year for dental pain. The good news is that Apple Health does indeed cover adult and pediatric dental care. 

Does Washington Apple Health cover vision?

Unlike many standard insurance policies for which vision requires an additional policy or addendum, vision coverage is included as part of Apple Health. 

Does Washington Apple Health cover therapy?

Yes, Apple Health covers mental health services such as behavioral health and talk therapy as well as acute/inpatient mental health care for those in crisis, state psychiatric hospitals, specialized services for American Indians and Alaska Natives, mental health care for children, peer support and more. 

Can I use Washington Apple Health out of state?

With rare exceptions, most Apple Health plans are limited to Washington residents. Apple Health recipients who are out of state temporarily and find themselves in a situation where they are in need of medical care should contact their managed care plan or the Health Care Authority’s Medical Assistance Customer Service Center.


Have more questions about Washington Apple Health? Unity Care has Enrollment Specialists available to help answer your inquiries as well as to assist you with eligibility requirements, enrollment and renewal. Please contact Unity Care at (360) 788-2669 or make an appointment online with an Enrollment Specialist today.



Puget Sound Energy – Bringing Light and Support to Our Communities since 1873

A mother and child look at a yellow school bus with "Early Learning and Family Services" written on it.
From gas lights to wind power projects, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has a rich history and deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to providing services to over 2 million residents in 10 counties, they are committed to partnering with local groups to create stronger more equitable communities for all.

Recently PSE provided a brand-new electric school bus to the Opportunity Council’s East Whatcom Regional Resource Center (EWRRC) for their East Whatcom County Mt. Baker Head Start program. The acquisition of this electric bus is part of PSE’s Up & Go Electric pilot program focused on equity in transportation electrification, one of PSE and the PSE Foundation’s many grants programs.

This bus, which PSE purchased from Blue Bird, comes with a dual-port level 2 charging station that PSE installed on the resource center property. The charging station will power the electric bus while the extra charging port will be available for other invited guests of the resource center.

PSE is working to advance the equitable adoption of transportation electrification in our region, and partnerships with community-based organizations enable them to build a robust EV network. They want to ensure that everyone, regardless of income and geographic location, can access the benefits of electric mobility.

PSE’s commitment to equitable access extends to a variety of projects and programs throughout the ten counties they serve. They are one of Unity Care NW’s Health Care Champion Sponsors, supporting our work to ensure everyone in our community has access to high-quality care even if they can’t afford it. Thank you, PSE, for your support and your efforts in so many communities across the Pacific Northwest.

What Does it Take to Bend Not Break? Make a Difference Before Disaster Strikes

Community members organize donations of necessities for flood victims in a church.On November 15 every year National Philanthropy Day takes place – a day that signifies the importance of working together for the common good. Whatcom Community Foundation exemplifies this concept in a variety of ways, like their support of our work as a Health Care Champion Sponsor and the incredible efforts they do to support resilience every day. In this guest column, they shine a light on their work to help rebuild after the floods of 2021:

Are we a resilient community? What does that look like?

A year ago this month, Whatcom County experienced the largest natural disaster in its history. Catastrophic flooding caused by severe rainstorms killed one resident, displaced more than 500, and caused more than $150 million in confirmed damages; an elementary school was destroyed and 2,000 homes — including 80% of the those in Sumas — were damaged.

As part of the private, community-based response, we were there. And we’re here to tell you: resilience looks like community — neighbors helping neighbors, chipping in, stepping up and Macgyvering their way through troubled waters to help people reach high ground, and then doing it again and again until neighbors are not just safe but made closer to whole: physically, emotionally, financially.

Of course, resilience is also robust infrastructure, flexible resources, strong leadership, sharp communication, clear roles and established protocols. Resilience is having a plan, along with the courage and imagination to change it to meet the moment.

Above all, resilience depends on relationships, best forged during ordinary times to lean on for the extraordinary moments when community support is the difference between bending and breaking. We cannot emphasize this enough. Trusted relationships — between public, private and nonprofit leaders, among neighbors and community partners — ensure respect, speed action and allow for creative solutions.

The Community Foundation set up the Resilience Fund several years ago with the idea that it would be activated during a disaster. More than $3 million was granted to area nonprofits for COVID-19 relief. Then came the floods. As of October 2022, the Community Foundation has granted $2.6 million for flood relief and recovery. These heroic numbers are all thanks to the stunning generosity of local businesses and neighbors. Neighborliness in action – resilience.

Resilience Fund dollars initially addressed humanitarian needs, then shifted to recovery efforts including supporting the Whatcom Long Term Recovery Group (WLTRG)  disaster case managers. While lasting solutions for housing, infrastructure and business recovery hinge on public funding, the WLTRG formed as a nonprofit dedicated to recovering and rebuilding following not just this, but all disasters.

Because there will be more. Experts predict heavy rainfall events — like the “atmospheric river” storms that led to flooding last year— to be more frequent and severe. Then there’s “the” earthquake or another pandemic or something else.

We’re all neighbors. County or city, red or blue; brown, black or white; rich, poor or neither: none of that matters when your house is on fire. What does resilience look like? You. And me. Us. The more we prepare and care for each other now, the better off everyone is when disaster strikes. When we strengthen relationships—across the street, across sectors and across the county— we bolster our ability to support each other equitably before, during and after a disaster or crisis. That’s what resilience looks like.

-Authored by the Whatcom Community Foundation, a Unity Care NW Health Care Champion Sponsor


Learn more about the Whatcom Community Foundation Resilience Fund here.

Learn more about becoming a Unity Care NW Health Care Champion Sponsor here.

Open Enrollment for Health Insurance is Here and We Can Help

Woman signing up and joining the Affordable Care Act open enrollment before deadline.

The Marketplace Open Enrollment at runs from November 1, 2022 to January 15, 2023. Consumers who enroll in Washington state health insurance by midnight on December 15 can get full-year coverage that starts January 1.

Washington Health Insurance Coverage is Affordable! This year, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, more people qualify for help purchasing quality health coverage during the WA state open enrollment period. If you have looked for medical insurance in Washington state before, it is worth a second look:
4 out of 5 customers will be able to find a plan during WA state open enrollment for $10/month or less after subsidies.
With the new law, millions of people will continue to qualify for tax credits that lower their premiums.

Quality Plans! These are quality, comprehensive health plans that offer doctor visits, emergency care, behavioral health care, preventive care, hospital care, and prescription drugs. There is a Washington state health insurance plan to suit nearly everyone.

Help is Available! Unity Care NW’s certified Insurance Navigators can help you for free. Call our health insurance navigators today! Call (360) 788-2669