HOLYOKE — Holyoke Community College (HCC) is the lead partner in a project that will bring $1.6 million in federal grant money to the Pioneer Valley to train community health workers in the battle against opioid addiction.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has awarded HCC $400,000 over two years to add as many as 36 seats per year to its existing community health worker program.
In addition to core studies in community health, students in the program will receive specific instruction and training in addiction and substance-abuse disorders.
Also, HCC’s three regional partners — Holyoke Health Center, Community Health Center of Franklin County, and the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services — will each receive separate $400,000 grants to support on-site practical training of those students.
“This is a really big deal,” said Rebecca Lewis, chair of HCC’s Foundations of Health program. “Each of the health centers is getting a huge award. Part of why we got this is because we took a regional approach. We’ll be recruiting students from all over the Pioneer Valley.”
The course of study will include three classes, free to all participants. The first cohort will begin in spring 2019 with “Core Competencies for Community Health Workers,” followed by “Introduction to Addiction Studies” in the summer of 2019, and concluding with a 125-hour practicum at one of the three health centers in the fall of 2019.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to leverage the resources of our academic partner, HCC, with the real-world implementation of the community health worker role,” said Edward Sayer, CEO of Community Health Center of Franklin County. “Health centers have been leaders in the area of integrated primary care for 50 years, so programs like these that build on developing a skilled workforce are essential to continuing the work of improving the health of our local communities.”
Community health is an emerging healthcare field, and community health workers are typically employed by agencies to focus on underserved populations, conducting home visits and connecting clients with needed services. They do not provide medical care.