Since 2010, opioids reportedly have been responsible for the deaths of nearly a half-million people. Opioid abuse has now surpassed both car crashes and gun violence as leading causes of death nationwide and is responsible for more deaths than the AIDS epidemic and the total US casualties of World War I and II, according to various estimates.
The federal government is now trying to combat the crisis at the community level.
Chase Brexton, a Maryland clinic aiming to provide quality care that honors diversity and improves communities, is among the health care facilities set to receive money in scholarship and loan repayment awards for clinicians and students through the National Health Service Corps (NHSC).
The funds are part of the federal Health Resources & Services Administration’s (HRSA) plan to combat the nation’s opioid crisis through an NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program (SUD Workforce LRP).
“These loan repayment awards and scholarships make it possible for dedicated clinicians to care for the patients who need them most, including Americans with opioid use disorder and other substance abuse challenges,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a release.
The program also supports the recruitment and retention of health professionals needed in underserved areas to expand access to SUD treatment and prevent overdose deaths.
Chase Brexton has locations in the Mount Vernon section of Baltimore and in Columbia, Easton, Glen Burnie, MICA and Randallstown.
“This helps us to focus on helping clients and not be worried about student loans,” said Qwan Needum, a substance abuse therapist and SUD Workforce LRP awardee. “I’m here to help save lives and educate our clients in Baltimore City. And, one of the things I like about being at Chase Brexton is that we have all the services needed in one building, and that includes medical, dental and health — and case management.”
The loan repayment program aims to increase access to quality opioid and substance abuse disorder treatment in underserved communities across the country.
The HRSA recently announced $319 million in scholarship and loan repayment awards, including $80 million to specifically support nearly 1,250 clinicians providing substance use disorder treatment.
In total, Baltimore area clinicians such as Needum have received 16 awards.
“As far as our clients’ access to care, we do see a lot of clients who don’t have insurance,” Needum said. “We also see those who don’t know how to apply for medical insurance, so we educate them on applying for Medicaid or Medicare, or even programs that provide co-pay assistance.”
Previously, Chase Brexton Health Care received more than $400,000 in federal grants recognizing its national leadership in quality care metrics and expanding its dental care programs.
The clinic also received a $300,000 grant through HRSA’s Oral Health Infrastructure Awards to expand its oral health programs.
Currently, Chase Brexton offers dental care at its Mt. Vernon, Columbia, Glen Burnie and Randallstown Centers and provided care for more than 6,300 patients in the fiscal year 2018, according to its website.
Additionally, Chase Brexton received a total of $117,000 in HRSA Quality Improvement Awards, recognizing its delivery of high-quality patient care.
The award included $62,254 in recognition of Chase Brexton’s role as a National Quality Leader, placing it in the top 2 percent of federally qualified health centers across the country.
Also included in the HRSA quality awards was $50,000 in recognition of Chase Brexton’s role as a patient-centered medical home and $5,000 to support Chase Brexton’s ongoing use of health information technology in supporting quality patient care.
Needum said the need for clinicians continues, but the loan repayment program should help.
“It’s definitely a need for more clinicians,” she said. “In my case, I handle a lot of clients, so with the additional support, I can actually have a steady workflow instead of an overload in demand.”