The MY-PROUD program, within the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) at WMU, recently secured a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services for a workforce expansion program to help fight the opioid crisis in Southwest Michigan.
Dr. Bridget Weller and Dr. Jennifer Harrison, both associate professors of social work, and Dr. Ann Chapleau, an associate professor of occupational therapy, created the MY-PROUD program to improve the interprofessional education of social work and occupational therapy students and to expand the workforce prepared and available to attend to medically underserved communities.
“Seventeen of the nineteen counties in Southwest Michigan have a mental health professional shortage. Because of this shortage, youth with or at risk for substance use disorders, including opioid use disorder, are often limited to services by addictions-only providers, or within county detention centers,” says Weller.
The majority of the whopping $1,349,749 grant will go directly to graduate students in the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy and Master of Social Work programs at WMU in the form of stipends.
“One of the critical parts of the MY-PROUD program is that a full 60% of the $1.35 million dollars must be spent directly on student stipends...who are placed in educational and healthcare settings in the four counties with the highest overdose rates and lowest access to behavioral health providers in the region,” Chapleau said. “MY-PROUD will enable 28 students a year to each receive a $10,000 stipend to support their continued learning and growth as a behavioral health practitioner,” she adds.
Harrison believes these students will be able to better focus on their research and first-year clinical experience by eliminating a portion of their financial burden with the grant.
"The students will graduate with experience and knowledge of evidence-based practices that can make a difference in the communities struggling with opioid use and substance use disorders throughout Michigan and beyond,” Harrison said.
MY-PROUD will target at-risk counties within the state of Michigan that have the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths and lowest access to behavioral health care. Included in this list are Calhoun, Jackson, Muskegon and Van Buren counties, who all have a death by overdose rate much higher than the national average.
Back in 2015, a West Michigan Drug Enforcement Team reported that at one time there was more than one heroin overdose per day in Muskegon County. Harrison also points out that Calhoun county’s Fentanyl-related overdose death toll rose from six in 2016 to 31 deaths in 2017.
Despite the focus being firmly placed on these four counties, the entire region of Southwest Michigan is at-risk, including Kalamazoo. “Since 2009, Kalamazoo County has had one of the highest rates of opioid overdoses in the entire state of Michigan,” Harrison said. In fact, there were more than 75 drug-related deaths in the county in 2017 according to a recent report.
The MY-PROUD program is determined to make the fight against the opioid crisis a fair one by preparing future professionals in a more innovative and efficient manner.
“We believe that our ongoing training model will have both a short and long term impact. By preparing our current and future healthcare, social services, and education workforce, we hope to prevent future substance abuse and also better intervene and support recovery efforts for our youth and young adults,” Chapleau said.
According to Chapleau, the program’s focus on knowledge translation makes it very unique.
“Using a mobile app for an outcome measure that we have developed, called Goal Attainment Scaling, we will track in real time when students implement at their field site prevention or intervention strategies they have learned in training. This will inform us of the effectiveness of our training in guiding students to the actual use of best practices,” Chapleau said.
Even U.S. Representative Fred Upton recently made public his support for the grant. "We can all be encouraged that Western Michigan University is showing commitment to address this epidemic and that they will be given more resources to do so,” said Upton.
“Representative Upton has long-understood substance use disorders and other behavioral health conditions as chronic diseases which deserve accessible and evidence-based interventions to prevent their occurrence and support their recovery,” says Harrison. “We appreciate his support of MY-PROUD, and other innovative programming to impact opioid use disorder prevention and treatment.”