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Shapiro Administration Highlights Work to Address Critical Staffing Shortages, Student Loan Repayment Grant Program Helping Substance Use Disorder Professionals

The Shapiro Administration is investing more than $40 million to retain professionals working in Pennsylvania’s drug and alcohol field.

04/30/2024

Blair County, PA - Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Dr. Latika Davis-Jones continued Phase 2 of the agency’s statewide stakeholder engagement tour today in Blair County to hear top issues and concerns surrounding the opioid and overdose crises and highlight local substance use disorder (SUD) treatment and recovery facilities.

“We are going region by region, neighborhood by neighborhood, meeting and engaging with stakeholders, but most of all, listening to them,” said Secretary Davis-Jones. “Hearing from a wide range of individuals in Blair County, including a veteran with lived experience, those who have lost a family member to an overdose, owners and operators of recovery housing, administrators of SUD treatment, and those serving in local government, is all vital to the Shapiro Administration’s multi-pronged path forward to addressing the overdose and opioid public health crises.”

As part of this stop, Secretary Davis-Jones met with Pyramid Healthcare practitioners who are recipients of DDAP’s popular student loan repayment grant program, including drug and alcohol counselors and a case coordination manager.

"After receiving my degree in September 2020, I worried about how I would afford student loan payments with a growing family and the uncertainties of the pandemic,” said Ariel Burkhart, Pyramid Healthcare Case Coordination Manager. “I applied for the DDAP student loan repayment grant program and when I learned I was eligible, I couldn’t have been happier and more appreciative. It is such a blessing to my family."

High rates of turnover and shortages of health care professionals have placed increased pressure on employee recruitment and retention, as well as access to care for Pennsylvania residents seeking SUD treatment and supports.

Through this SUD loan repayment program, DDAP is providing loan repayment opportunities as an incentive to retain SUD practitioners willing to continue providing services within the Commonwealth. This is critical work to address an important workforce shortage in Pennsylvania.

Under the first phase of this program, DDAP awarded grants totaling almost $19 million to more than 270 SUD practitioners including case managers, counselors, licensed social workers, physician assistants, and registered nurses to go towards repaying their student loans. Of the total grant recipients, 25 are Pyramid employees at various facilities across the Commonwealth.

Additionally, Secretary Davis-Jones visited DDAP-licensed SUD treatment facility Cove Forge Behavioral Health Center, where she joined residents and staff to take part in an interactive rock climbing recovery activity designed to assist in individuals’ recovery journey.

Secretary Davis-Jones was joined by Blair County Drug and Alcohol Program, Inc., SUD treatment providers, recovery organizations, and other stakeholders for a roundtable discussion on efforts to manage the overdose crisis in Blair County.

Blair County Drug and Alcohol Program is the Single County Authority (SCA) for drug and alcohol services in Blair County, providing community assessment, capacity building, planning, implementation and evaluation to support drug and alcohol programming for the county.

“We appreciate the visit from the Administration and the Secretary’s strategic process that provides input from the community to include individuals and families impacted by substance use disorder, treatment providers, government officials and other key stakeholders,” said Blair Drug and Alcohol Program Executive Director Judy Rosser. “It was also an opportunity to share the current trends around workforce, regulatory reform, recovery supports, and areas we need to sustain.”

DDAP recently awarded nearly $3 million to the SCA to establish or expand crisis stabilization services for individuals with co-occurring mental health and SUDs.

Building on ‘Phase 1’

Phase 2 of DDAP’s engagement tour will center on gaining stakeholder insight to assist the agency’s work on regulatory reform and build on the feedback received and solutions instituted as a result of Phase 1.

The Phase 1 findings were derived as a direct result of the feedback received during roundtable discussions held in 2023. Throughout Phase 1, DDAP visited 10 Pennsylvania counties including Allegheny, Erie, Centre and Philadelphia, met with more than 220 stakeholders during the roundtables, and visited nearly 20 different service providers including inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities, DDAP-licensed recovery houses, and wellness centers.

Below are DDAP’s action items that don’t require regulatory action and further align with the agency’s RISE goals of Reducing stigma, Intensifying primary prevention services, Strengthening treatment systems, and Empowering sustained recovery:

·       DDAP is offering another round of its successful SUD student loan repayment grant program. More than $22 million will assist practitioners within the SUD treatment, prevention, case management and recovery support services workforce.

·       DDAP surveyed the SUD workforce to gather additional knowledge of pain points related to DDAP’s regulations. DDAP will use the information from over 300 survey responses, coupled with data gathered during Phase 1, to conduct time-limited and topic-specific work groups to help inform the agency’s future regulatory reform decisions and ensure stakeholder input throughout the process.

·       DDAP is providing clarification to the SUD workforce regarding alignment with American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) criteria, which is a comprehensive set of standards and decision rules determining the appropriate level of care and developing treatment plans, through technical assistance webinars and additional educational opportunities.

·       DDAP-funded regional recovery hubs will provide additional trainings to equity coalitions, including diversity, equity and inclusion training.

‘Boots-on-the-Ground’ Input

Stakeholders include individuals in recovery and those with lived experience, service providers, active service recipients, community leaders, schools, corrections units, and more. The tour will seek to reach communities and voices less frequently heard.

DDAP is prioritizing gaining stakeholder insight to assist the agency with its regulatory reform initiative. Specifically, the agency’s objectives for the regulatory reform initiative include:

·       organizing regulations in a way that makes sense for providers, people using services, and family members reading them; 

·       updating terminology to use current and consistent terms using plain language while avoiding stigmatizing language; and

·       ensuring regulations are specifically focused and designed to promote individuals’ safety, quality care, and positive outcomes and elevate the service user’s experience.  

Throughout the remainder of the tour, DDAP will also be seeking input on SUD issues related to: ​

·       data requirements and modernization needs​

·       health equity work and advancement​

·       treatment slot management ​

·       improving departmental communications. 

Future tour stops will include, Carbon County, Westmoreland County, and several others.

Learn more about the Shapiro Administration’s efforts in combating the overdose crisis at pa.gov/opioids.

MEDIA CONTACT: Stephany Dugan - ra-dapressoffice@pa.gov

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