BUSSW partners with community leaders to bring the School of Social Work to Worcester, Telegram & Gazette reports.
May 13, 2019 | By Susan Spencer, Telegram & Gazette staff
Tackling the opioid crisis involves more than ramping up public safety, medical intervention, rehabilitation and education efforts, according to a panel of health and community leaders who spoke Monday at the College of the Holy Cross.
It requires addressing social determinants of health such as jobs, housing, food and transportation; appropriately addressing trauma and mental health issues; maintaining community connections; and working to eliminate the stigma of substance use disorders.
The community system approach uses just the kind of skills that social workers are trained to provide, which is why Boston University School of Social Work hosted the opioid forum as a launch to its new hybrid master in social work program in Worcester.
The Worcester Hybrid MSW Program, which starts in the fall, is the successor to Wheelock College’s Worcester-based part-time social work program that has been offered since 2012, first at St. Peter-Marian High School, then at Anna Maria College and this year at Holy Cross.
When BU and Wheelock merged in 2018, BU looked at what opportunities Worcester presented.
“I was very impressed with the students and their commitment to the community,” said Mena DaSilva-Clark, assistant dean for off-campus and online programs at BU School of Social Work, in an interview last week. “We have the expertise and we wanted to be able to connect with the community. This is very much a part of what we’ve done.”
The school currently offers off-campus programs in Bedford, Fall River and on Cape Cod.
The hybrid model, the first of its kind offered by BU, requires students to attend classes held at Holy Cross during their first year. In the second year, students transition to online courses as they begin their field work. The third year also involves online coursework and community work.
At the kickoff on Monday, Jorge Delva, dean of BU’s School of Social Work, said building on the Wheelock program, which will graduate its last class next year, helps “build a compassionate and just society,” which is at the core of the school’s mission.
The hybrid program will expand on Wheelock’s partnerships with local organizations such as YOU Inc., Family Health Center, Veterans Inc., and the Worcester public schools to “allow students to have an impact before they even graduate,” Mr. Delva said.
“Bringing it all together is a huge, wonderful task for social workers,” Romas Buivydas, vice president of clinical development at Spectrum Health Services, said about the profession’s potential impact on the opioid crisis.
Mr. Buivydas was joined on the panel by Dr. Matilde Castiel, Worcester’s commissioner of health and human services and an internal medicine practitioner; Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.; Susan Hillis, vice president of clinical services at AdCare Hospital, and Christopher P. Salas-Wright, associate professor at BU School of Social Work.
Social work, along with mental health treatment, is one of the most important things needed to deal with gaps in the current system, according to Dr. Castiel.
“Part of the problem is, people aren’t trained in dealing with addiction,” she said.
Dr. Castiel noted that only 3% of physicians are trained to administer the medication-assisted treatment buprenorphine, or Suboxone, which requires completing an eight-hour course.
The reason, she said, was, “They don’t feel comfortable working with people with addiction.”
Finding secure housing, jobs and other “wraparound” services to bolster recovery could help address the “constant cycle of people going through those programs.”
Ms. Hillis said that clinicians themselves needed to take a hard look at their own biases. She said a colleague, who was ill, was ignored in a local emergency department until the hospital staff learned he was employed by, not a patient at, AdCare.
Research has shown that the language used to describe people with substance use disorders in various situations affected how social workers opted to address the problem, Mr. Salas-Wright added.
“Stigma is the biggest problem we face,” Mr. Early agreed.
It also has financial implications, he continued. “We’ll have more insurance coverage if we treat this like a complex disease of the brain.”
The need for trauma-informed care was also cited as a major challenge.
“Opioids are typically a drug of choice for people who have been traumatized,” said Mr. Buivydas.
Dr. Castiel and Mr. Early pointed to the city’s work with victims of human trafficking to provide treatment and connect them to housing and other resources.
“The reality is, they are all suffering from addiction,” said Dr. Castiel.
Those efforts, and appropriate training for professionals, need to be expanded across the community to include others at high risk of opioid overdose, such as those who have been recently incarcerated.
“We’re coming back full circle to social workers’ boots on the ground,” Mr. Buivydas said.
One woman in the audience, who works in a treatment center and is in recovery, highlighted the urgent need for the city to respond more broadly.
The toll of fatal opioid overdoses has taken “some of the most underutilized voices that this city will ever know,” she said. “I can’t be the only person to believe in them. It has to be a city effort.”
The BU School of Social Work Worcester Hybrid MSW Program will hold a virtual information session from 7 to 8:30 p.m. June 4. Webinar information and registration can be found at http://myssw.bu.edu/whpvirtualinfosession.
Read the original article from Telegram & Gazette here.