Education and emergency services partner to battle the opioid epidemic in rural Pennsylvania

Grant funding sources have directed focus on the social, economic and health-related issues in rural areas, including the opioid epidemic


By EMSGrantsHelp Staff

Many federal and state funding sources have directed focus on the social, economic and health-related issues in rural areas. The change and impacts have been seen by many rural first responders and emergency service agencies. Federal grantmakers have put more direct focus on serving rural communities. Many grant funders have realized the importance of key partnerships to procure the most beneficial workforce, economic, safety and educational grant-funded programs.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), provides grants to rural, economically distressed areas in the 13 states of Appalachia. In 2018, ARC funded a unique emergency service’s training/education program – built upon a partnership between first responders, medical professionals and a state higher education institute, Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

Clarion University of Pennsylvania was awarded $50,000 from ARC and $50,000 in foundational funds, to implement its Opioid Treatment Specialist Certificate Tuition Assistance Project. (Photo/University of Pennsylvania)
Clarion University of Pennsylvania was awarded $50,000 from ARC and $50,000 in foundational funds, to implement its Opioid Treatment Specialist Certificate Tuition Assistance Project. (Photo/University of Pennsylvania)

The university was awarded $50,000 from ARC and $50,000 in foundational funds, to implement its Opioid Treatment Specialist Certificate Tuition Assistance Project. The certificate program, offered online by rehabilitation sciences and nursing department faculty, provides advanced information on opioid abuse and its prevention, education and treatment. The tuition assistance program was introduced to benefit a minimum of 30 first-responder workers/trainees in several counties of Northwest Pennsylvania. Scholarships were awarded for courses in fall 2018 and spring 2019 semesters – the seven-week course format allowed certification within two semesters, costing $4,600. The 12-credit certificate was specially designed for EMTs, drug counselors, prevention workers, law enforcement, probation and parole staff, and others who are in contact with patients who have been involved with opioid abuse.

The online nature of the program allowed frontline professionals to gain their Opioid Treatment Specialist Certificate where they live and work, providing access to a larger region, most of which is rural.

The certificate program was recognized and commended by Pennsylvania Governor Wolf and various regional political leaders as one of the most effective ways to respond to the opioid crisis by ensuring that treatment professionals are trained to help guarantee that people in need of treatment can obtain it and save lives.

“Fighting the ongoing battle against heroin and opioid abuse in the state is a top priority of my administration,” Wolf said in a statement. “I’m proud to announce the new curriculum with Clarion University because education is a powerful force in this fight and it is my sincere hope that professionals (people) take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about opioid addiction and what part we can each play in this effort.”

Building the opioid abuse prevention partnership

Partnerships with education, workforce and economic development can result in many more federal funding opportunities for EMS departments. The typical EMS federal grants are not the only route for finding funds to support or implement a program – partnering with other sectors allows for a wide variety of options.

The current opioid epidemic has impacted all societal sectors – creating a funding environment perfect for forming partnerships between emergency services, education, workforce and economic development. A focus on rural broadband and telemedicine has opened doors for rural EMS agencies to receive federal funding for projects.

Rural EMS departments should start the conversation with their local and/or regional education institutes, workforce boards and economic development agencies. Federal grant funders are focusing on programs and projects that would align with the partnering of agencies and municipalities. The first step is opening the line of communication and reaching out to regional partners. Though at first glance it may not seem like a logical partnership – the commonality of need in emergency services, education, workforce and economic development is higher than expected.

A great place to start is with your regional Economic Development Corporations –  the U.S. Economic Development Administration website is a great resource.

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