$1.1 Million Federal Grant Will Prepare Social Workers for the Frontlines of the Opioid Crisis

Amy Korsch Williams headshot

The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences and Case Western Reserve University were recently awarded a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to train graduate social workers and nurse practitioners to treat opioid abuse and addiction disorders in their communities.

“If we’re going to tackle this epidemic, it’s got to be from the perspective of an interdisciplinary approach,” said Amy Korsch-Williams, MSSA, CNM, LISW-S, the principal investigator of the grant and assistant dean of academic affairs, field education and instruction at the Mandel School. “We are at a crisis level right now.”

In 2018, more than 700 people died from opioid/heroin overdoses in Cuyahoga County, according to the Cuyahoga County Opiate Task Force. The overdose rate from pharmaceuticals alone was more than triple the national average.

Students from the Mandel School and the university’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing will partner with five Northeast Ohio community organizations: MetroHealth Medical Center, Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services, New Directions, Recovery Resources and Hitchcock Center for Women.

“These organizations provide a variety of critical health, behavioral health and opioid and substance-abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services to children, adolescents, transitional age youth and adults,” said Korsch-Williams, who is also a faculty affiliate of the Center on Trauma and Adversity. “We’ve got a real opportunity here to make a difference.”

The grant supports 65 new training positions over the three-year project period: 45 social work master’s students, 15 graduate psychiatric nurse practitioner students and five doctor of nursing practice students.

The students will complete their training requirements at the five partner sites, focusing on opioid and substance abuse, diversity, integrated primary care, child and adult behavioral health and trauma-informed practice.

“This training program is a good example of the Interprofessional Experience (IPE) that occurs at Case Western Reserve,” said Mandel School Dean Grover C. Gilmore, PhD. “We are pleased to provide these opportunities to students who upon graduation will be working on critical issues with their professional colleagues.”

The idea is to get highly trained and skilled practitioners onto the frontlines, said Korsch-Williams. As part of the students’ stipend, the grant requires them to sign a commitment letter to remain in the field after graduation.

“We will use the expertise and resources of Case Western Reserve faculty to create highly innovative training experiences for these students,” Korsch-Williams said. “Then, the students will be working in the community, committed to working with highly vulnerable populations. This kind of model improves access to care almost immediately through increased service capacity and creates a pipeline to a highly skilled workforce in the long term.”

Learn more about this news: WEWS-TV (ABC), Crain’s Cleveland Business, and WKSU.

This story originally appeared in The Daily on September 18, 2019.